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How drones are saving the environment

09 July, 2021 | The Sphere Drones Blog

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Drones are taking on role of helping us save the environment thanks to their capabilities, feature sets, and opening new possibilities. Let's look at two examples of this with drones mapping sensitive environments and helping us prepare for rising sea levels.

Drones mapping sensitive environments

Like with wildlife populations, researchers need a precise understanding of habitats to plan conservation efforts. Broadly, the mapping technology used to innovate the construction and mining industries can also be applied to forests, ice sheets, and coastal areas. Drone images can be captured at scale, stitched together, and analysed to compare geographical changes over time.

In the Amazon, DJI hardware has been used to monitor the daily intake and release of atmospheric chemicals above the rainforest. A team from Harvard modified a DJI Matrice 600 drone, swapping out the usual camera for a chemical-detecting sensor to gather data on how global warming is impacting plants in the region.

In Iceland and Greenland, drones added greater depth to historic data gathered at higher altitudes, helping scientists track the rate at which glaciers are melting. Photogrammetry software was used to create 3D models, which in turn brought to life how the warming climate is altering Iceland’s iconic landscapes.

Drones are also being used to map plastic waste on coastlines in Portugal, Cambodia, Denmark, and the UK. By documenting the level of pollution and giving scientists insight into our litter habits, all these projects have helped to streamline cleanup efforts and publicise the scale of the problem.

Drone mapping can also be harnessed for environmental enforcement. In Sumatra, Indonesia, aerial photography is being analysed to expose rainforest destruction from illegal palm oil plantations and logging camps.

How drones are helping us prepare for rising sea levels

Some of the direst consequences of climate change are already being felt in the form of rising sea levels. At this point, mitigation is required alongside efforts to reduce the long-term impact. Coastal areas are most at risk, so understanding water flows is vital. Drones are the perfect tools for littoral and bathymetric surveys because they can cover a huge amount of ground in a small space of time, without sacrificing data granularity.

In 2020, DJI Phantom 4 RTKs were used to map 60km of coastline between Togo and Benin in West Africa. By digitising the fragile coastal ecosystem, researchers have gained insights into its current state and now have a fresh set of ortho-images and topographic data to work with.

Scientists from the University of Ghana have used DJI drones to monitor coastal erosion along the country’s Volta Delta, with a view to building an early warning for potentially devastating floods to the nearby Fuvemeh community. And with drone-enabled LiDAR surveys, scientists can simulate shoreline changes to account for rising sea levels, run storm impact models, and predict which areas will be most at risk of flooding.

Source: DJI

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