Examining the Utility of Unmanned Vehicle Technology to Map Topography
Project ID: 4926
Principal Investigator: Douglas Clark
Research Topic: Water Resource Data Analysis
Funded Fiscal Years: 2012 and 2013
Keywords: unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned aerial systems, synthetic aperture radar, grid, elevation, sediment
What is the feasibility of using the Predator Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), Global Hawk UAVSAR, as well as USU (or other university) and Raven UAV platforms (and their Electric-Optical sensors) to map river sediment movement? What are the comparative strengths and weaknesses of each unmanned aerial system? When and under what conditions should Reclamation use one or more of these systems for mapping sediment movement?
Need and Benefit
UAV technologies have traditionally been deployed in support of military and intelligence operations, but are now increasingly being tested for their utility in supporting the optimal use of natural resources. For example, the USGS has used the UAV Raven to monitor bank erosion on the Missouri River and to count Sandhill Cranes in the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. UAVSAR technology has been used to estimate biomass. Predator UAVs have used SAR technology to examine the structural stability of levees during a flood event on the Mississippi River. Reclamation gathers elevation data for many uses, including flood modeling, sediment transfer, and reservoir and stream monitoring. Satellite data sometimes are too crude for these uses and too infrequently gathered and are often hindered by poor weather conditions. LIDAR missions are costly and can be subject to long turnaround times for product delivery. On the other hand SAR deployed on a UAV platform is operational during cloudy and non-cloudy conditions. Smaller UAV aircraft can be readily deployed, often without runways and they are can enter areas that would be hazardous for piloted aircraft to enter. For these reasons, Reclamation should explore the utility of using UAVs to conduct is operations.
Independent Peer Review
The following documents were reviewed by qualified Bureau of Reclamation employees. The findings were determined to be achieved using valid means.
Aerial Missions with Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems to Monitor Sediment Flow and Changing Topography Resulting from the Removal of Dams on the Elwha River (final, PDF,
By Douglas Clark, Mr. Alan Bell, Jeff Sloan, Mr. Mark Bauer and Ms. Susan Goplen
Report completed on November 12, 2013
This information was last updated on May 27, 2015
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