Environmental monitoring and conservation

Environmental engineers, conservationists, researchers and professionals working in related fields are using fixed-wing drones as an easy and cost-effective means to capture accurate environmental data that can be used for various applications, ranging from glacial modeling to coastal erosion tracking, species identification and population assessments.

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    What are the benefits of drones in environmental monitoring?

    Efficiency – Quickly and safely collect data over large areas without sacrificing accuracy and quality.

    Accuracy – Drone data accuracy is higher than many other remote sensing techniques such as satellite data and yet comparable and compatible with in-field and other remote sensing observations.

    High-resolution data – Environmental applications rely on understanding change and the intricacies of the variables affecting change, something that data with high temporal, spatial and spectral resolution help achieve.

    Cost savings – Replace expensive manned flights with drones for applications such as animal counting or search and rescue missions.

    What are the applications of drones in environmental monitoring?

    Vegetation monitoring – Assess and measure vegetation health, canopy cover, calculate biomass, identify disease and other threats, and monitor growth stages throughout the seasons.

    Plant and animal counting – Capture high spatial and spectral resolution data to count plants and animals, either manually or with automated machine learning.

    Species identification – Identify and categorize vegetation according to species and other metrics, identify invasive species and plan corrective actions.

    Water management – Understand landscape contours and soil properties to manage water flow, flooding and irrigation, or detect algae blooms in water bodies.

    Risk management – Map fire breaks, erosion, landscape changes and encroachment.

    Progress monitoring – Monitor and track project progress and reporting, quickly generate area and volume reports and quantify costs.

    Land management – Map and manage land to optimize biodiversity, minimize risk, monitor land changes and degradation, and plan interventions early with a comprehensive understanding of the context.

    Search and rescue – Fixed-wing drones can cover large areas in short times, making them useful for search and rescue missions in national parks.

    What types of drone data outputs can you expect?

    Drone data output depends on the sensor and processing software. Select a sensor based on your data requirements. Your sensor choice will determine the drone you need to carry this payload. Typical drone data outputs you can expect from eBee drones, MicaSense and senseFly sensors and Measure Ground Control include:

    Orthomosaic map – A geospatially accurate and detailed 2D representation of a site. Accurate orthomosaic maps help environmentalists monitor change and extract insights such as species counts, encroachment and other aspects.

    Index maps – Combine multispectral indices for detailed vegetation, soil and water analyses, including Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), NDRE which is sensitive to chlorophyll content in leaves and can also be used for mapping variability in fertilizer requirements, Color Infrared Composites, and OSAVI (Soil Adjusted Vegetation Index) maps.

    Digital Surface Model (DSM) – DSMs depict elevation and are useful in water management and soil monitoring applications.

    3D mesh map – A three-dimensional texture (mesh) map with X, Y, Z data can be used for cluster analyses or to characterize vegetation and erosion.

    Point clouds – Point cloud maps comprise millions of individual points featuring X, Y, Z geospatial coordinates and with associated RGB/multispectral values, and can be used in biomass measurements and planning/calculating restoration costs.

    Contour lines – Topographic maps take X and Y coordinates from the aerial drone data to generate precise contour intervals to understand the lay of the land and landscape dynamics.

    What software do you need?

    • eMotion software is a leading drone software solution for flight planning, geotagging and photo stitching. From here the imagery can be exported for further processing in Pix4D and other software.
    • PIX4Dfields, PIX4Dmapper and PIX4Dmatic photogrammetry software are popular solutions for vegetation analyses, surveying an area, and automating large area mapping and monitoring. Pix4Dreact can be used for planning search and rescue missions.
    • Measure Ground Control can be used to manage a drone fleet, as well as to process multispectral imagery from MicaSense sensors.