Editorial Feature

Using Drones to Predict Climate Change

Image credit: Adam Vilimek/Shutterstock

The Advantage of Drones

One of the greatest advantages associated with the use of drones, which are commonly referred to as either Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS) by military personnel, is their ability to maneuver through obstacles and situations that would ordinarily be too risky or difficult for humans to accomplish. For example, when used for military purposes, drones provide troops with a 24-hour “eye in the sky” every day of the week, as they provide a full view of a given area and transmit real-time images and videos of activities taking place on the ground.

Aside from military purposes, drones have also been used for countless other purposes for agricultural, fire analysis, law enforcement, traffic, geological and many other industries. In fact, drones have also proven to be a great tool for the monitoring and prevention of climate change.

How Drones Monitor Climate Change

Various active research projects around the world are currently investigating different ways in which they can manipulate drone technology to combat climate change in innovative and cost-effective ways. Some of the ways in which drones have been used to monitor climate change include:

  • Provide researchers with data in cost-effective ways, especially as compared to traditional aerial methods such as planes, helicopters, and satellites
     
  • Investigate areas both in the air and deep beneath the surface of oceans
     
  • Provide access to hard-to-reach and remote areas, such as thick forests of the Arctic, the tops of mountains and the bottom of the ocean to provide a full picture on the climate of these areas
     
  • Fast data acquisition that saves time and resources for researchers
     
  • Can be equipped with a high-definition camera, multispectral camera, a thermal sensor, a chemical sensor and many other accessories to provide more efficient and consistent information
     
  • Provides a clear picture of the state of an ecosystem and ho wit has changed over time by collecting multiple types of information on one location over an extended period of time1

Below are some of the latest efforts that have utilized drone technology to improve climate change initiatives around the world.

Image credit: 24Novembers/Shutterstock

The Saildrone

Saildrone, a marine tech startup company based in Alameda, California, in collaboration with the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has developed a 7-meter-long sailing drone that will provide high-resolution data on large ocean areas. At approximately USD 2,500 per drone, the Saildrone is comprised of five major parts, all of which play a crucial role in detecting environmental changes, ocean data collection and the analysis of fish populations.

These parts include:

  • Mast: Present at the top of the sail, the mast of the Saildrone contains sensors to measure wind speeds, air temperatures and sunshine to provide full details on the atmosphere during operation.
     
  • Tail: Ensures that the Saildrone remains pointed towards the wind
     
  • Panels on the Wing: Provide 30 watts of energy for up to 100 kilograms of payload.
     
  • Subsurface: Sonar-like Doppler profiler gauges the currents of the ocean up to 10 meters deep.
     
  • Surface: A series of sensors are placed on the surface of the Saildrone that lays directly on the surface of the water to measure wave heights, carbon dioxide, oxygen and salinity concentrations of the surrounding area.

The SailDrone has already successfully be used for various data missions around the world involving the investigation of the Gulf of Mexico, Bering Sea and hurricanes of the Atlantic Ocean2.

Mapping Disaster Risk: Maldives

A joint effort between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and DJI have committed their partnership in helping the remote islands of the Republic of the Maldives, a South Asian island country, to prepare for emergencies caused by the natural effects of climate change. Although the coral atolls of the Maldives are home to a population of nearly 400,000, these islands may soon disappear as a result of rising sea levels, extreme coastal erosion, heavy rains and flooding that have already severely damaged these lands as a result of severe climate change3. The impact of these extreme climate conditions has affected communities, such as small farmers and those living in areas of poverty, which depend on their land to provide meals for their family and live.

The researchers working on this joint project have utilized drone technology to acquire important information on how the topography of the islands are changing over time, which provides important information on the overall appearance of the island and which areas are more susceptible to monsoons and other extreme weather disasters. Although the use of drones in this situation will not solve the issue of climate change directly, they provide a useful technology that connects communities of these areas with emergency response teams in the event of a natural disaster.     

References

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Benedette Cuffari

Written by

Benedette Cuffari

After completing her Bachelor of Science in Toxicology with two minors in Spanish and Chemistry in 2016, Benedette continued her studies to complete her Master of Science in Toxicology in May of 2018. During graduate school, Benedette investigated the dermatotoxicity of mechlorethamine and bendamustine, which are two nitrogen mustard alkylating agents that are currently used in anticancer therapy.

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