Editorial Feature

Using Drones for Environmental Research

Researchers, conservationists and environmental engineers are increasingly using drones instead of lower-resolution satellite photos, slower land surveying equipment, and costly and often unavailable manned aircraft services.

drone, environmental

Image Credit: Duct/Shutterstock.com

Drones are unmanned aircraft that are navigated using a global positioning system (GPS). They fly with varying degrees of autonomy thanks to software-controlled flight plans. In brief, they are remotely operated, allowing these robotic drones to fly autonomously.

In reality, civilian drones greatly outweigh those employed by the military. The ordinary population utilizes drones for photography, agricultural applications, and product delivery.

The Importance Of Environmental Research

Environmental science is critical to preventing the degradation of our planet. Human behavior has led to disasters, such as flash floods, storms, droughts, and climate change. If we do not research and mitigate these events, there is a significant risk of mass extinction.

Drones can easily fly over large amounts of land to aid mapping and environmental monitoring. They can complete these duties far more swiftly and cost-effectively than conventional techniques, making them suitable for distant or difficult-to-reach sites.

Drones are effectively employed to monitor environmental catastrophes in unsafe locations, such as during floods or after storms. Drones may be used in cameras, thermometers, humidity and pressure sensors, wind gauges, and other sensors, allowing them to collect vital environmental data. A drone can collect this data regularly, eliminating the need to send people out into the field.

Challenges of Environmental Research with Drones

As the world population approaches 10 billion by 2050, the environmental concerns have multiplied as the demand for clean food, water, and energy rises. In response, drones are increasingly being used. However, drones have some challenges, including endurance, obstacles, traffic detection, and navigation.

Drone batteries are large and heavy, and they deplete rapidly. Meanwhile, gasoline engines are loud and generate pollution. The solution is to use hydrogen fuel cells, which enable drones to fly up to three times farther and for three times as long than comparable-sized battery-powered aircraft. They run quietly, emit water, and can be rapidly refueled.

Drones currently need human intervention to avoid obstacles and navigate traffic. This is solved by installing an IntuVue RDR-84k Radar sensor, which guides the drone around other planes and obstructions, maps terrain, determines safe landing zones, measures altitude, and can even detect poor weather. It has a 3-km range and can maintain a close eye on many items simultaneously.

When GPS is non-responsive or unavailable, it requires an inertial measurement unit. The small powerhouse employs an array of electronics, all housed on computer chips, and offers accurate information to the navigation system. With an IMU on board, the system knows where it is, what direction it is traveling in, and how fast it is moving.

Monitoring Wildlife

Protecting natural environments and wildlife safely can be significantly assisted using drones. They can easily observe a vast land area with an aerial birds-eye-view perspective while having little to no human participation in the process.

The ability to track and follow dangerous animals across vast lands with little disruption to the natural environment is invaluable. Drones can also be utilized to protect endangered species from trespassers and poachers, which will, in turn, protect the animals and increase security in difficult-to-reach places.

Monitoring Ocean Health

Drones are commonly thought of as airborne vehicles, but underwater drones may be used to perform research in oceans, rivers, and lakes to monitor the health of marine ecosystems.

This improves researcher safety by minimizing or eliminating the need for them to go underwater. Underwater drones can also help researchers go to regions they would not be able to access.

Underwater drones were utilized by researchers at St. Andrews, New Brunswick, to better assess the impact of aquaculture activities on the surrounding ecosystem. Drones gather water and sediment samples, which scientists analyze to discover what species live in a specific location and how species makeup may have altered since the advent of aquaculture.

Supporting Turtle Conservation in Goa Through Aerial Monitoring

Researchers have developed methods that utilize unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to aid the conservation efforts of Goa's olive ridley sea turtles and assist in assessing the turtle's population while documenting turtles' nesting.

The three parties involved in this project had to coordinate and discuss for weeks the best path of action to ensure a smooth collaboration while meeting the regulatory and legal requirements of Indian law.

The olive ridley turtles population is failing, and they are being put on the IUCN red list. The human activities around the beach have heavily affected the number of nesting places accessible on the beach. This has led to female turtles being unable to deposit their eggs at the beach where they were born. Some estimates state that as low as one in a thousand baby hatchlings survive to adulthood.

The drone operation was led by the WeRobotics incorporation with WWF India, the government, and the commercial sector. Their objective was to capture video footage and imagery over Mojim beach.

The data was then converted to 3D high-resolution orthomosaic and 360 aerial panoramic models of the beach. This information helps detect the optimal adult turtle's paths and record the accurate number of female turtles around the beaches.

The Importance and Benefit of Drones in Environmental Research

Drones help safeguard the environment in several ways. Companies may soon begin employing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to carry items, potentially reducing carbon emissions linked with shipping.

Amazon, Google, DHL, and others are already investigating. UAVs are a robust technology with several uses. One of the most crucial may be environmental protection.

The Future of Drones

Through DARPA's Vanishing Programmable Resources initiative, Aerial Platform Supporting Autonomous Resupply Actions, or ASPARA, developed a biodegradable, one-time-use cardboard drone (VAPR). There are two types of biodegradable drones available: microbe and cardboard.

ASPARA will use drones to help deliver supplies or medication to remote locations. These drones, which may be fired from a ship or plane, will disintegrate in days.

NASA and Stanford's scientists collaborated to develop a drone with a fungus, or mycelium, chassis, and a body composed of wasp saliva. Although the drone's motors and propellers are not biodegradable, scientists hope they will be in the future.

References and Further Reading

Folk, E. and Folk, E., 2022. How Drones Are Helping The Environment, And Why That's Important. [online] Blue and Green Tomorrow. Available at: https://blueandgreentomorrow.com/environment/how-drones-helping-environment-and-why-important/

senseFly. 2022. Environmental monitoring drones ease field research - senseFly. [online] Available at: https://www.sensefly.com/industry/drones-environmental-monitoring/

Tomas, T., 2018. Using drone technology to conserve the environment. [online] Geospatial World. Available at:https://www.geospatialworld.net/blogs/using-drone-technology-to-conserve-the-environment/

Hugenholtz, C., n.d. Drones take off for environmental research | EVDS. [online] Sapl.ucalgary.ca. Available at: https://sapl.ucalgary.ca/evds_info/content/drones-take-environmental-research

safeopedia.com.What is Environmental Science? - Definition from Safeopedia. [online] Available at: https://www.safeopedia.com/definition/1391/environmental-science-environmental-health-and-safety

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Olivia Hudson

Written by

Olivia Hudson

Olivia has recently graduated with a double bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering and Business Management from the RMIT University in Australia. During her studies, she volunteered in Peru to construct wind turbines for local communities that did not have access to technology. This experience developed into an active interest and passion in discovering new advancements in materials and the construction industry.  

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