Remote Sensing & GIS

Puerto Rico Rainforest Highway Mapping

A United States registered National park, El Yunque National Rainforest is the only tropical rainforest in North America. A series of roads run through the park to allow guests to travel the 29,000 acre park. Puerto Rico’s location in the Caribbean makes it susceptible to yearly hurricanes. These violent storms frequently change the landscape by causing landslides and other geological shifts. For the winding roads located in El Yunque National Rainforest’s park this meant major shifts along points of the roads making parts of the park inaccessible for managers and patrons alike.


In September of 2021, the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration awarded a contract to Novel Construction in Puerto Rico to address the road deterioration resulting from landslides on Puerto Rico's Highways within the El Yunque Nation Forest caused by Hurricane Maria. Precision Ecology, a remote sensing data solutions start-up from Miami, Florida focused on environment management and sustainable development was brought in as a consultant to map the existing site conditions and attempt to locate landslides that where not identified by the ground surveying crews. The US Forest Service was also involved in this project, requesting Precision Ecology’s data to perform ecological assessments of endangered species in the area.

Precision Ecology Field Team deployed the Wingtra One Gen II along with the Sony RX1R II to fly over 16 KM for a total of 65 acres in just 17 minutes. In just three days the Precision Ecology team mapped and recorded data from areas with dense vegetation. Using a medium sized VTOL UAV Precision Ecology equipment was in the air for less than an hour at a time while mapping dozens of hectares. This equipment allows us to capture large areas efficiently and with high degrees of accuracy. Most quadcopter solutions would require way more time and deliver way lower quality data over the same area. The Wingtra UAS is the best in class for this application.

Immense planning goes into when and how we launch our equipment. Utilizing Real-time kinematic positioning (RTK) our equipment tracks with the elevations of the ridgeline to maintain a consistent ground sampling distance (GSD). The GSD is easily understood as the resolution and it is super important because the quality of input data directly affects the quality of the output data. These technologies and techniques add to the accuracy and quality of work Precision Ecology did in the El Yunque National Forest.

This zoomed out view of the landslide area is showcasing the 257 million data points generated over the area with an average density of 293 points per cubic meter. One single dataset captured in a single flight is able to deliver macro environment understanding and detailed specific area information as illustrated below in the zoomed in picture of the landslide.

Point cloud data allows for volumetric calculations that can be used for a wide variety of applications from earthwork takeoffs to erosion monitoring. Effective application of this technology relies on quality data collection and processing. “With access to more information, data, and detailed reports of the site conditions the contractor is able to better coordinate his team and facilitate optimal workflow while minimizing the area being disturbed,” said Precision Ecology’s contact at the FAA. Many federal agencies showed heavy interest in the data that came out of this one of a kind project. Precision Ecology is excited about its ability to offer high quality data to stakeholders in environmental agencies that need it.

Pictured above from left to right is a Digital Surface Map (DSM), a Digital Terrain Map (DTM), and Contour Lines all of the same area in the El Yunque National Forest. The DSM and DTM are raster files that contain elevation data. They are currently being visualized using a gradient filter to show the changes in elevation at different points on the map. The contour lines are at wide intervals and were derived from the DTM rather than the DSM so that they would represent the ground rather than the tops of trees and other features that are represented in the DSM. The DTM is derived from the surface map and is essentially a smoothed out version. This data allows us to generate ground level contours to begin exploring for potential landslide areas.

By zooming out and looking at the larger area around the highway area Precision Ecology was able to begin recognizing existing slides as well as new areas of interest. Looking for valleys and continued depressions in the contours proved to give our team a good understanding of the land and where the new slides might be located.

After identifying a potential area from the contour lines we can go and check that area a little closer using our point cloud dataset. Looking at our point cloud we were able to identify an area where the tree cover is washed out and there seems to be some exposed dirt and debris. This leads us to believe this could be a potential landslide or an area that may be prone to a slide. Our team repeated this process over the multiple flights and areas we were tasked with covering. We were able to identify multiple areas where there could be potential landslides as well as created very high quality topological maps of the highways running through the El Yunque National Forest. Precision Ecology was honored to have the first UAV authorized to fly in the rainforest. Our equipment and expertise allowed us to complete this job efficiently.

Dedicating particular attention to pre-construction matters allows for an improved quality of work to be completed, as well as a reduction of certain unforeseen costs that may arise from management inefficiencies. Even further, providing this information for the size and detail required for this project in the environment necessary would not have been possible without the utilization of the WingtraOne as the primary UAS system deployed.


Precision Ecology is proud to make the advanced capabilities of the WingtraOne Generation II available to clients around the Southeast United States and the Caribbean. This project was made possible by the excellent work of the US Federal Highway Association, the US Federal Aviation Association, the US Forest Service and Novel Construction. For additional information on remote sensing for environmental management and sustainable development data solutions please feel free to get in touch at precisioneco.com or reach out to the team at science@precisionecology.com or benjamin@precisionecology.com.

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