Deep Learning and Remote Sensing for Coastal Resilience: Rapid and Automated Coastal Monitoring to Inform Community Recovery from Storm Events (2019-2020)

Remote sensing plays a critical role in the study and management of coastal ecosystems. Unoccupied aerial systems (UAS, also known as drones) complement satellites and are becoming an integral tool in studying and managing coastal systems, providing on-demand remote sensing capabilities at low cost and with modular sensors that can assess a wide variety of variables. While powerful tools, satellites and UAS generate massive amounts of data. The expertise and time required to analyze this imagery is an obstacle in using it to inform disaster response and storm recovery – an obstacle machine learning is well poised to mitigate.

This project team developed a methodology for long-term monitoring of land cover dynamics in the coastal Southeast United States. They did so by leveraging deep learning to automate classification of Landsat 5 satellite imagery into discrete land cover types (e.g. wetland, agriculture, forest). This land cover data continues to be analyzed to better understand long term changes (e.g. wetland migration, urban expansion) and impacts of specific events, namely hurricanes.

In addition to increasing understanding of land cover change across the North Carolina Coastal Plain, the change detected in this analysis will guide future drone surveys for areas that experienced substantial change. The team prototyped this “tip-and-cue” system by targeting drone flights at the Nags Head Woods Preserve based on changes detected via satellite.


Spring 2019 – Fall 2019

Team Outputs

Justin T. Ridge, David W. Johnston. 2020. “Unoccupied Aircraft Systems (UAS) for Marine Ecosystem Restoration,” Frontiers in Marine Science 7:438

Nags Head Woods Preserve: An Application of Remote Sensing to Analyze Land Cover Change and Ecosystem Response (ArcGIS StoryMap by Kendall Jefferys)

Justin T. Ridge, Patrick C. Gray, Anna E. Windle, David W. Johnston. “Deep Learning for Coastal Resource Conservation: Automating Detection of Shellfish Reefs.”  2020. Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation.

Creating Custom Loss Functions for Multiclass Classification (poster by Yousuf Rehman)

Deep Learning for Land Cover Classification (poster by Diego Chamorro)

Deep Learning and Remote Sensing for Costal Resilience: Scikit-Learn Model Performance (poster by Sofia Nieto)

NLCD Analysis of Wetland and Tree Canopy Dynamics in Eastern North Carolina (poster by Kendall Jefferys)

Project team site


Kendall Jefferys

This Team in the News

Faculty Perspectives: David Johnston

Senior Spotlight: Reflections from the Class of 2021

Understanding Land Cover and Storm Impacts in the Coastal Southeast

New Project Teams Will Tackle Research to Inform Hurricane Preparedness and Resiliency Efforts

Bass Connections team members with drone at coast.

Team Leaders

  • Patrick Gray, Nicholas School of the Environment–Marine Science and Conservation–Ph.D. Student
  • David Johnston, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation
  • Justin Ridge, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Diego Chamorro, Electrical & Computer Egr(BSE)
  • Kendall Jefferys, Environmental Sci/Policy (AB)
  • Feroze Mohideen, Electrical & Computer Egr(BSE)
  • Sofia Nieto, Computer Science (AB)
  • Yousuf Rehman, Electrical & Computer Egr(BSE)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Guillermo Sapiro, Pratt School of Engineering-Electrical & Computer Engineering
  • Brian Silliman, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Brian Boutin, The Nature Conservancy
  • Carolyn Currin, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • Jenny Davis, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • Paula Gilikin, North Carolina Division of Coastal Management
  • Aaron McCall, The Nature Conservancy
  • Brandon Puckett, North Carolina Division of Coastal Management
  • Sarah Spiegler, North Carolina Sentinel Site Cooperative