UNF professors receive research grants

One project will study new ways to track forest fires, another is focused on sinkholes at Silver Springs.

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The University of North Florida Environmental Center awarded research seed grants to three UNF professors. 

One project focuses on battling wildfires by using thermal imaging to improve tracking. Another will study sinkholes surrounding Florida’s Silver Springs.

The competitive, merit-based grants are awarded annually to UNF faculty members to support environmental research and inspire effective collaboration between faculty and students in diverse disciplines, according to a news release from the university.

Forest fires

UNF associate professors John Nuszkowski, mechanical engineering, and Alan Harris, electrical engineering, were awarded $8,000 for their project, “Forest Fire Tracking using Machine Learning and Thermal Imaging from an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.”

Wildfires are devastating due to the environmental concerns from the destruction of land, release of greenhouse gases and the emission of particulate matter that can be harmful to public health, according to the release.

Improvements in wildfire detection, tracking, mitigation and modeling would lessen the environmental impact from wildfires. The objective of the project is to develop a wildfire tracking algorithm, using machine learning, that is based on thermal imaging captured from an unmanned aerial vehicle. The algorithm will be a neural network model based on object detection for tracking the fire front, it said.

Thermal images will be captured by the research team’s UAV on terrain without a fire, with fire pits and with a prescribed burn.

Sinkhole research

Ryan Shamet, civil engineering assistant professor, received $8,000 from the Vulcan Materials Co. Foundation for his research project, “Hydrogeological considerations for sinkhole development in the Silver Springs recharge basin in Marion County, Florida.”

The Silver Springs state park has played a role in the development of Central Florida’s national image of natural resources and ecotourism attractions.

With the increase in development in the surrounding area, the pollution detected in groundwater emitted from Silver Springs has increased, affecting water quality and the ecosystems. A contributing factor for the rise in groundwater pollution is the increase in sinkhole occurrences within the recharge basin for the springs.

The study will investigate the influences of subsurface conditions to sinkhole formation through soil testing and numerical modeling. The data will benefit decision-making when designing stormwater management structures, such as ponds or roadway swales, to ensure less chance of polluted groundwater entering the aquifer and further harming the environment, according to the release.

The UNF Seed Grant program is supported by an endowment provided by the River Branch Foundation. A recent gift from the Vulcan Materials Co. Foundation allows the Environmental Center to expand the program and offer additional grants focused on water issues in Northeast Florida.