Image credit: Heather Lescanec

Student project about Elodea entanglement on floatplanes

Under the guidance of UAA Computer Science Professor Dr. Frank Wittmer and myself and with a grant through the UAA’s Honor’s College, UAA student Devin Boyle is trying to better understand how floatplanes pick up the aquatic invasive plant Elodea spp.

Elodea spp. (Elodea) is Alaska’s first submerged aquatic invasive plant. It was first discovered in urban parts of the state but is being introduced to remote water bodies by floatplanes such as Sucker and Alexander Lakes in the Mat-Su Borough. Once introduced, elodea threatens salmon and makes floatplane destinations inaccessible, affecting fisheries and tourism, both vital for Alaska’s economy.

With the generous support from Rust’s Flying Service Devin was able to install GoPro cameras on one of Rust’s floatplanes and was able to collect images of the plane’s rudder throughout its daily operation. Devin will now use the collected images to develop a machine learning algorithm trained to automatically detect Elodea and test the feasibility for a large scale big data application. Below are images from a recent test flight that shows the Elodea infestation in Sucker Lake (Mat-Su Borough) and a video of how even small fragments of Elodea can get transmitted via floatplanes.

Below is a video that shows how elodea gets entangled on the floats of a de Havilland Beaver taking off from Alexander Lake, Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska.