Field testing underway to explore monitoring applications for recently acquired UAS

Posted July 28, 2017
Researchers capture a high-resolution image, top, and multispectral sensor image, bottom, of Talbert Regional Park in Orange County during test flights with a pair of recently acquired unmanned aerial systems (UAS). While the top image provides a basic record of the condition of vegetation at the site, the bottom image uses chlorophyll-a measurements to generate detailed data on the vegetation’s condition. The greener areas represent healthier vegetation, while the redder areas represent dying vegetation and barren areas.

SCCWRP and its partners have initiated a series of field experiments examining how a pair of recently acquired unmanned aerial systems (UAS) could be used to improve the speed and accuracy of routine environmental monitoring.

Researchers are exploring if and how professional-grade drone technology could be used to effectively track the spread of trash in watersheds, document erosion and other morphological change in waterways, and monitor the health of aquatic vegetation by measuring features such as wetness and greenness.

SCCWRP has invested in two drones: one with an integrated multispectral sensor, and one for capturing photos with a high-resolution camera that is shared with the San Francisco Estuary Institute. SCCWRP staff have received Federal Aviation Administration certification to pilot the aircraft.

With the multispectral sensor, researchers are focusing on capturing chlorophyll-a data, which can be used to distinguish between healthy vs. dying vegetation, and to identify early evidence of algal blooms.

Later this year, researchers will test the multispectral sensor’s ability to identify and map algal blooms at Lake Elsinore in Riverside County.

Unlike satellite imagery and ground-based field methods, UAS offers the potential to produce detailed, 3D mapping-quality data for specific sites of interest, improving researchers’ ability to completely characterize sites that have traditionally been too time-consuming, dangerous or inconvenient to access.

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