How UAO is Using Drones for Environmental Science

Companies and organizations are turning to Unmanned Aerial Operation’s UAV technology to make environmental management more efficient as the world accepts the importance of ecological preservation, ecological maintenance, and putting regulations in place. Drones are one such technology and their use is growing as more industries find new ways to make the most of this lightweight technology.

This article will discuss several benefits Unmanned Aerial Operation’s drones have on the environment management sector. We’ll be covering topographic mapping to reduce hazardous runoff and wildlife tracking as well as 3D models of geological formations that allow us to see changes over time.

Environmental Mapping & Modeling

Unmanned Aerial Operation’s drones can be fitted with payloads which allow users to map features, waterways and ravines as well as plant health and canopy cover. This is one of the most important uses of drones in environmental management.

Payload-carrying drones can be used to collect data from high resolution cameras to advanced LiDAR systems. This helps companies in multiple industries to comply with environmental regulations. It also benefits the organizations that manage and inspect these environments. Drones are an accepted method of mapping land and water. These are just a few examples.

Drone Mapping Land Features

Contour Map of Construction site From Aerial Survey Drone Mapping Unmanned Aerial Operations
Contour Map of Construction site From Aerial Survey Drone Mapping Unmanned Aerial Operations

Topographic mapping of features is one of the most popular benefits of drones for environmental management.

Imagine a mining company that is about to begin mineral extraction from their surface mine. The ore will be extracted and the remaining (unused) rock placed in what is called a tailings heap. Leeching is a phenomenon where toxic chemicals from the tailings heap flow down into waterways or low elevation areas.

There is a risk of toxic chemicals leaching into waterways. This could lead to diseases in a number of species, including humans, if they are ingested, or swam in.

Companies and environmental groups map the area around the mine in order to determine the best place for a tailings pile. This will limit the potential leaching effects. A mapping drone is used to create a topographic map that includes contour lines and relief maps, or a combination thereof.

A low canopy area is ideal for a drone to use a standard RGB camera to map. Photogrammetry is the science of extracting measurements and imagery from images. Photogrammetry can be a very precise form of mapmaking. Canopy cover is the only problem. The reason is that if there’s too much canopy, the drone won’t be able map the true topography on the ground. Instead, it will map the elevation of treetops.

LiDAR is the solution. LiDAR (in this context), is a system that maps an area of land, much like a standard camera. LiDAR uses lasers instead of a standard camera which takes hundreds of images to map an area. Instead of taking 100’s of pictures, LiDAR penetrates the canopy to reach the ground and reveals the true elevation.

Engineers and environmental scientists will be in a position to determine the most impactful location of the tailings heap once the map has been created.

Drone Canopy Mapping

Canopy Gaps

Drones are used in forestry to map the forest canopy. The canopy can’t be penetrated by regular cameras. LiDAR, however, does an amazing job of canopy penetration. Drones equipped with high-end cameras for photogrammetry can be used to map the canopy coverage of an area.

The area that the camera can see is measured, and then the areas are taken. The percentage of visible ground in an area can be calculated by taking the area of visible ground and dividing it by its total area. The canopy cover is the remaining percentage.

When looking at environmental management through the lens of ecological management, the importance of canopy coverage is that it can have effects like low undergrowth. It is common for animals to live in the forest’s undergrowth. 

Wildfires are more common in areas with high undergrowth. High undergrowth can be a problem in different areas. In areas like Southern California where there is less humidity, high levels of undergrowth can increase the risk. Tree species can also play a role in the amount and extent of undergrowth. The canopy cover of pine species is lower than that of other species and they are often surrounded with undergrowth.

Unmanned Aerial Operation’s drones can not only map the canopy cover but also the tree species within it. A diverse forest is beneficial for wildlife and the overall health of the forest. Environmental scientists can use drone mapping technology to map large areas of land.

Drone 3D modeling for Geologic Structures

3d Model of Cliff Slope with Ground Depression

Environmental Management includes the observation and maintenance of geologic structures.

Unmanned Aerial Operation’s drones are used to make models of the same structure on a regular basis to show how mountains, cliffs and faults change.

A model can help you understand the risk zones for avalanches and mass wasting. The model is created by drones using photogrammetry, which uses data from the flight. A scan of the feature creates an image cloud.

This can be explained by the thousands or even millions of dots that form a structure in a model. It is similar to the way atoms are made up of matter in real life.

Geologists and environmental scientists can use the point cloud to measure a slope and volume of a peak. They can also compare older models with current models to see changes. This is crucial to understand how humans impact the environment.

 The earth can become loose if a slope has been logged. If certain actions aren’t taken, this can cause a landslide. Environmental management can use a 3D model derived from the drone scan to determine where to put preventive measures such as walls or netting.

Drone Plant Health Mapping

Plant Health Map of Murphy Nc from From Aerial Survey Drone Mapping - Unmanned Aerial Operations
Plant Health Map of Murphy Nc from From Aerial Survey Drone Mapping – Unmanned Aerial Operations

Unmanned Aerial Operation’s Drones can be used to map the health of plants. This is an enormous benefit for environmental management. A drone with the ability to sense and capture images in the RGB, near infrared, or multispectral spectrum will be required by pilots.

The drone will fly automatically after the pilot has created his automated flight. The drone will fly in grid formation across the land and take hundreds to thousands of images. 

The pilot will take these images and then upload them to a mapping engine. An orthomosaic image combination contains metadata such as geographic location, RGB reflectivity, and elevation of the ground surface relative to the camera.

This can be used over land as well. These drone-derived plant health maps can also show you where algal blooms are occurring. Algae can be a good thing sometimes. However, in lakes and ponds that harbor fish, it can cause environmental problems by using large amounts of oxygen in water.

Fish breathe oxygen, even underwater. Fish will die if there is not enough oxygen in their underwater enviroment.

Environmental scientists can use plant health monitoring to help assess the health of an area. It can also help to identify deficiencies in soil nutrients. The global problem of soil nutrition is grave.

 Due to their reddish appearance, stressed plants can be seen on plant health maps. Environmental scientists will need to test the soil.

Blight can also cause reddening of a plant’s health maps. Blight can cause the death of entire crops. Blight can spread from one plant to another and infect other crops. The serious nature of these diseases cannot be understated, as the Chestnut Blight in 1904 decimated millions of trees within a very short time.

Unmanned Aerial Operation’s drone technology is a great tool for environmental scientists to identify potential problems that could be harmful to an ecosystem or to a particular species.

Drone Wildlife Tracking

It is essential to understand how animals interact with the environment in order to manage an area effectively. Environmental scientists can use drones to observe animals as they live their daily lives. The drones are becoming smaller and quieter, so the animals might not notice them, or assume they’re birds.

Drones can be used to view large-scale mass migrations of animals across the United States and Africa. Environmental scientists can use drones to help them understand the routes animals travel to make sure they are safe for their animals.

A town, village, or development built near a migration route could lead to animals being relocated or worse, even dying. Because ecosystems depend on the continuous cycle of migration, it is crucial that animals stay where they are for thousands of years. 

If a group prey animals does not migrate for a specific season, then their predators will need to find a new food source. This can upset the ecosystem’s balance. In the past, this imbalance caused predators to attack humans.

As innovative and helpful as they can be, solutions to roadways that cross with animal migrations or developments are not only possible but also feasible. A popular solution is the animal crossing/bridge/highway. Drones can provide aerial imagery that is useful for determining where these animal crossings should be placed.

Drone Wildlife Inspections

Aerial Photo of Osprey Nest North Carolina - Unmanned Aerial Operations
Aerial Photo of Osprey Nest North Carolina – Unmanned Aerial Operations

Unmanned Aerial Operations use drones to verify and inspect the position of animals, similar to the previous example. This is different than wildlife tracking which is focused on the movements of several animals.

Wildlife inspections, however, are focused more on the position of one animal or a small number of animals. Companies are forced to use drones to inspect the environment, and declare that wildlife will not be endangered, as was briefly stated at the beginning.

These wildlife inspections are most common when developers want to build a new development but aren’t sure if there are endangered species. An old stadium for baseball is being demolished. Officials discovered two large birds in a nest high above one of the stadium lights. They are believed to be Ospreys and it is mating season.

This is because legislation states that developers cannot continue to demolish a nest if the species has laid eggs. The hatchlings must reach a certain age.

Developers would contact a drone pilot in order to inspect the wildlife and determine if Ospreys have laid eggs. As the drone flew to the nest, the drone pilot would remain at a safe distance. The pilot would then take pictures of all angels. Developers will need to wait if there are any eggs in the images. 

Conclusion

The need to manage the environment is becoming more important as cities grow and population increases. Drone pilots and drones assist environmental scientists, geologists and developers to ensure a healthy environment.

Drones allow us to learn more about the world and its inhabitants every year. Drones offer many benefits for environmental management. This could only increase as the payload capacity and small gear are made possible to attach to UAV’s.

Time will tell if scientists/pilots/developers using drones in environmental management will grow, but right now, we know that it is increasing the speed in which projects can be completed, it’s allowing for proactive interventions in plant diseases and other ecological issues, and it allows for an insight into wildlife’s movements and locations. Drones are likely to continue to be a benefit in environmental management.