Hopkinson group part of documentary work on avalanche slope

The University of Lethbridge’s ARTeMiS (advanced-resolution terradynamic monitoring system) Lab will be featured as part of a science documentary recently filmed by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).

Zhouxin Xi, Dr. Chris Hopkinson, Thomas Porter and Celeste Barnes were on site for four days at Fortress Mountain.

Dr. Chris Hopkinson, Chair in Terrestrial Ecosystem Remote Sensing and a member of the University’s Department of Geography, was contacted by the BBC/PBS production to join a group of international scientists as they examined an avalanche slope on Fortress Mountain in Kananaskis Country. Hopkinson, an expert in LiDAR (light detection and ranging), agreed to take part if he could also include some of his students in the work.

“Zhouxin Xi, Celeste Barnes and Thomas Porter all joined me and did an excellent job representing the U of L in a very professional manner,” says Hopkinson.

The project was a collaboration of four international scientists led by Dr. Jim McElwaine of Durham University in the UK.

“Over a period of four days, we collected a lot of 3D data over the avalanche slope and were able to estimate avalanche volumes before the avalanche was triggered,” says Hopkinson. “McElwaine modelled the avalanche behaviour using slope morphology and snow density data. He used our initial laser scan to assist in training the model, and then we scanned again after the avalanche to estimate the volume of snow in the avalanche to partially validate the model.”

The film crew shooting a segment with members of the U of L contingent.

Barnes, a PhD student working on mountain snowpack visualization and modeling using LiDAR, Xi, a PhD student working on terrestrial laser scanner algorithm development, and Porter, an undergraduate student and research associate supporting various mountain water and ecosystem research projects, were all interviewed by the BBC/PBS film crew. In addition, Porter employed a drone throughout the exercise and it’s expected some of his footage will be used in the film.

The documentary is currently in post-production and is expected to be released in the fall of 2018.

“Working on what felt like a military filming and interview schedule was both exhausting and exhilarating for all concerned. The mix of professors and students working side-by-side on a shared and high-tech time-sensitive research goal with cameras rolling was the most intensely educational experience I could imagine,” says Hopkinson. “The U of L laser scanning effort could not have succeeded without the hard work and dedication shown by Celeste, Zhouxin and Thomas. I am fortunate and proud to have been a member of such a talented team.”