3D model created with drone mapping of the Paneveggio Natural Park after a windstorm

UAV rapid mapping after the Paneveggio forest windstorm

After a natural disaster devastated part of Northern Italy, Pix4D helped local authorities gain situational awareness in minutes.

In October 2018, a windstorm destroyed large parts of the Provincial Forest of Paneveggio in the North East of Italy. Winds of up to 217 kilometers per hour uprooted an estimated 8.5 million trees.

After a request from Agenzia provinciale per le Foreste demaniali (the agency for province-owned forest) first on the scene was Servizio Antincendi e Protezione Civile, a specialized group of the local firefighting department. The Servizio Antincendi e Protezione Civile team have a small fleet of UAVs and work with the local government to provide inspections, photogrammetric surveys and search and rescue.

After the windstorm, they used rapid mapping with drones to provide a quantitative survey which allowed forestry management teams to evaluate the damage and assess the best course of action before winter's snows halted work.

3D model created with drone mapping of the Paneveggio Natural Park after a windstorm
Drone footage of Paneveggio Natural Park after the windstorm
The project had to be completed before snow covered the ground

Project details

LocationProvincial Forest of Paneveggio, Italy
TeamServizio Antincendi e Protezione Civile
Total area mapped9.45 km²
HardwareDJI Inspire 2
DJI Zenmuse X4S
DJI Mavic PRO
Total images3,942
SoftwarePix4Dcapture
Pix4Dmapper
Time from flight to deliveryRapid mapping results were delivered within two hours. The entire project was completed in three weeks.
Average GSD5.6cm

A forest of violins

The Paneveggio forest is special. The unique meteorological conditions of the Unesco World Heritage site produce a wood with resonance. Light and elastic resonance wood is used to create fine instruments such as Stradivarius violins.

The forest is carefully tended according to traditional practises. Spruce trees are harvested under a waning Autumn moon, and the best quality wood is still processed by hand. Before the windstorm devastated the region, some 6,000 cubic meters of wood were felled each year, with only 20 to 50 cubic meters being suitable for resonance wood. A cubic meter of resonance wood can sell for as much as €15,000: 136 times more than the same volume of ‘normal’ spruce.

To salvage some of the precious wood, and begin the years-long clean up effort, the team needed to provide surveys to the forestry management - and fast.

A Servizio Antincendi e Protezione Civile team member explained: “Near the forestry management agencies headquarters, for example, there is more than one square kilometer which is completely without trees. Every single tree has fallen down.”

3D model created with drones of the Paneveggio Natural Park Italy after a windstorm
An estimated 8.5 million trees were felled during the storm | View this model on Pix4Dmapper Cloud

Situational awareness in minutes

While the affected area was very large, the team concentrated on just 11 badly-affected areas and some parts of a nearby provincial forest in the Cadino Valley. The surveyed areas covered less than 10 square kilometers, yet were representative of the damage in the wider forests.

“The forestry management service understood how many trees were in each area. By collecting images of damaged trees in a small area, they could extrapolate this data across the forest and estimate the total damage,” says a team member.

Fallen trees in the Paneveggio Natural Park
The UAV team's tiny-looking red car gives some idea of the scale of the damage | View this project on Pix4D Cloud

To stay within Italy’s laws surrounding drone flight, the team found the highest possible point for takeoff, and either plotted a flight path in the free Pix4Dcapture app, or flew manually, a skill perfected with search and rescue missions.

To ensure the forestry service could act on the images as quickly as possible, they were uploaded directly to Pix4D Cloud, which automatically creates a 3D model.

By uploading images directly to Pix4D Cloud, the team were able to deliver results within two hours of take off. “Pix4D processes very quickly, particularly with the rapid option selected,” explains a team member. “You can have situational awareness only a few minutes after the flight.”

The forestry management personnel were able to view the results directly in their browser. “In particular the 3D area calculation is a very important feature for mountain areas.”

Counting the cost

Within weeks of the windstorm, the forest management service had all the information they need to estimate the damage and begin the years-long project of forest recovery. Throughout Northern Italy, the windstorm caused more than two billion euros worth of damage.

Happily, the forestry staff who manage the Paneveggio Forest estimate that around 70% of the timber felled by the wind can be recovered.

Of the recovered timber, around 40% is good quality wood for carpentry use, and another 40% will be used by the packaging industry. A further 15% will be used as biomass for heating. Only around 1-2% of the recovered wood will be used to construct musical instruments.


Situational awareness in minutes
Pix4Dmapper: professional drone mapping from images.

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