This project partners the University of Colorado Boulder's Research and Engineering Center for Unmanned Vehicles (RECUV) with CU Boulder’s Earth Lab and CU’s Mountain Research Station to understand the impact of widespread tree mortality in Colorado’s forests by integrating multi-scale, ground-based, airborne, and satellite observations to determine underlying drivers for Colorado forest dieback. Research output and lessons learned will build on the University’s long-standing expertise in environmental studies and alpine ecology.

Project Forest will employ CU Boulder’s highly sophisticated unmanned aircraft infrastructure for remote sensing, data collection, and monitoring of ecosystem health - such as vegetation growth and tree distribution. Earth Lab will then process and analyze collected data in collaboration with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), also located in Boulder, to inform future ecological and conservationist endeavors.

Goals of Project

  • Develop and integrate a suite of imaging instruments and sensors to be mounted on a small Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) for ecological monitoring in western Boulder County
  • Establish routine flight operations, leveraging CU-Boulder’s vast FAA Certified flight space, to collect data for Earth Lab curation and analysis
  • Develop science questions to guide UAS system and mission design and strategies for how UAS-collected data are integrated with other collected data to answer ecological questions
  • Leverage Earth Lab Analytics Laboratory’s High Performance Computing (HPC), data analytics, and visualization expertise to address longstanding and new questions in Earth System science and environmental management

Primary Contact

Eric Frew, Associate Professor, Aerospace Engineering Sciences (AES) | | 303-735-1285

Researchers & Collaborators

Brian Argrow, Professor, Aerospace Engineering Sciences (AES), University of Colorado Boulder
Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), high-speed and hypersonic aerodynamics, dense gas dynamics, rarefied gas dynamics

Eric Frew, Associate Professor, Aerospace Engineering Sciences (AES), University of Colorado Boulder
Networked heterogeneous unmanned aircraft systems, optimal distributed information-gathering by mobile robots, guidance and control of unmanned aircraft in complex atmospheric phenomena

Carol Wessman, Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado Boulder, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)
Ecosystem ecology, landscape ecology, regional and global biogeochemical cycling, ecological applications of remote sensing,  geographic information systems

Research Facilities

Research and Engineering Center for Unmanned Vehicles (RECUV)

The RECUV is a university, government, and industry partnership dedicated to development and application of Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).  Facilities include the Mobile Research Collaboratory (MRC), an indoor flying robot lab, a systems integration lab, ground-based LIDAR capability, and a fixed wing & rotary wing unmanned aircraft fleet integrated with a variety of Sensors. RECUV also boasts the most expansive university network of FAA Certificates of Authorization (COAs), allowing UAS operation and research in over 100,000 square miles of space in Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Alaska.

Mountain Research Station

Located at 2900 m (9500 feet) in the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies, the University of Colorado’s Mountain Research Station is an interdisciplinary facility of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) providing research and educational opportunities for scientists, students, and the general public. On-site capabilities include the Alpine Observatory, the Kiowa environmental chemistry laboratory, the Tundra Laboratory, and the John W. Marr Alpine Laboratory.

Research Partners

Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (C-UAS)
Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)
Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR)
Niwot Ridge Long Term Ecological Research (LTER)
Sustainability, Energy, and Environment Complex (SEEC)