Research Missions

Each research mission tests the effectiveness of UAS technology to support one of the wide variety of earth science investigations performed by DOI scientists, and aids in the establishment of operational benefits such as increased safety, reduced cost, and improved data quality. These missions also provide the opportunity to develop and test the operational procedures and processes required for DOI to safely operate UAS in the National Airspace System (NAS).

Data Disclaimer and Usage: All DOI and USGS policies apply.

Devils Tower National Monument, WY

3D Modeling

Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming

The U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the National Park Service, utilized a small Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) at Devils Tower National Monument located in northeastern Wyoming. The UAS flights collected high resolution imagery to reconstruct a detailed 3D model of the monument - October 2016.

Project Cooperators: USGS, NPS

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Study Site

Evaluate land use impacts on sediment, salinity, and selenium distribution

Stinking Water Gulch near Rangley, Colorado

USGS and the BLM use UAS to collect high-resolution data over several basins located in Mancos Shale landscapes and then generate Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) to support sediment volume calculations - September 2016.

Project Cooperators: USGS, BLM

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Wildlife and Vegetation Surveys

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota

USGS and NPS worked together to evaluate the applicability of UAS data collection to help address specific park resource management needs and also provide a basis for future integration of UAS to help manage other NPS resources - July 2016.

Project Cooperators: USGS, NPS

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Borah Peak in the left back of the image

Earthquake Fault Surveys

Borah Peak in Idaho

USGS scientists utilized UAS data collection methods to generate structure-from-motion derived point clouds of the Borah Peak earthquake rupture as a tool to help with understanding the fault rupture process which is important for modeling the energy release of future earthquakes - May 2016.

Project Cooperators: USGS

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West Fork Mine study site

Monitoring Land Surface Change

West Fork Lead Mine near Bunker, Missouri

USGS researchers utilize UAS collection of high-resolution images for the generation of elevation models to monitor land surface changes caused by a partial roof collapse at the underground lead-zinc West Fork mine - April 2016.

Project Cooperators: USGS

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Study Site

Rapid-response Mapping of Coastal Change

Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts

The USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program use proof-of-concept UAS flights to collect high-resolution imagery of Coast Guard Beach at Cape Cod National Seashore - March 2016.

Project Cooperators: USGS, Raptor Maps, Inc.

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Study Site

Paleowetland Deposit Study

Mojave Desert in Southern California

USGS researchers test high-resolution imagery collected from UAS technology to assist in the investigation of paleowetland deposits at numerous sites in the southwestern United States. - January 2016.

Project Cooperators: USGS

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Nesting pelicans

Census of Ground-nesting Colonial Waterbirds

Anaho Island National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada

USGS, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, conduct population surveys of nesting American White Pelicans at the Anaho Island National Wildlife Refuge, NV - May 2015.

Project Cooperators: USGS, USFWS, Humboldt State University, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe

Photo Courtesy of USFWS

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Sequoyah Study Site

Waterfowl Surveys

Sequoyah National Wildife Refuge in Oklahoma

USGS and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) use unmanned aircraft systems to improve waterfowl survey accuracy (i.e. species identification, and count estimates) and eliminate pilot/passenger safety risks - February 2015.

Project Cooperators: USGS, USFWS

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Study site

Stream Temperature Dynamics Study

Tribal Youth Program in Klamath Basin, Oregon

USGS, USFWS and Klamath Basin Tribal Youth Program utilize UAS technology to study stream temperature dynamics on the river systems within the Upper Klamath Basin - July 2014.

Project Cooperators: USGS, USFWS

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Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Census of Ground-nesting Pelicans

Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota

UAS prove to be more economical, less obtrusive, safer, and a more efficient and versatile means to survey American White Pelicans and other ground-nesting waterbirds - June, August 2014

Project Cooperators: USGS, USFWS

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Carrizo Plain Ecological Reserve, California

Elk and Vegetation Surveys

Carrizo Plain Ecological Reserve in California

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) assess the value of UAS for vegetation mapping in difficult terrain and tule elk population estimates at Carrizo Plain Ecological Reserve - May 2014.

Project Cooperators: USGS, USFWS, CDFW

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Elk herd, Photo Courtesy of Scott Terrell, Skagit Valley Herald

Stillaguamish Indian Tribe North Cascades Elk Population Surveys

Skagit Valley in Washington

Western Washington University (WWU) investigates the feasibility of conducting elk population surveys in dense, forested areas of the Skagit Valley of Washington using UAS technology - January 2014.

Project Cooperators: USGS, BLM, BIA, WWU

Photo Courtesy of Scott Terrell, Skagit Valley Herald


White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Paleontological Pleistocene Tracks Survey

White Sands National Monument in New Mexico

Proof-of-concept UAS surveys to document the presence of exposed dinosaur tracks at the paleontological track site at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico - January 2014.

Project Cooperators: USGS, BLM, DOD, NPS

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Tomales Bay, California

Waterfowl Census and Species Determination Surveys

Tomales Bay, California

Proof-of-concept missions at Tomales Bay, in an attempt to conduct sample waterfowl population census counts and to see if individual species could be distinguished from the UAS data collected at low-altitudes - December 2013.

Project Cooperators: USGS, USFWS

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Kern and Pixley National Wildlife Refuge Complex, California

Waterfowl Census and Species Determination Surveys

Kern and Pixley National Wildlife Refuge Complex in California

Proof-of-concept missions over Kern and Pixley NWR Complex in an attempt to conduct sample waterfowl population census counts and to see if individual species could be distinguished from the UAS data collected at low-altitudes - December 2013.

Project Cooperators: USGS, USFWS

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Canon SX260 CIR image of the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Nevada

Waterfowl and Habitat Surveys

Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada

Proof-of-concept missions over Ruby Lake NWR in an attempt to conduct sample waterfowl population census counts and to see if individual species could be distinguished from the data collected from the low-altitude UAS - November 2013.

Project Cooperators: USGS, USFWS

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Central Platte River Valley, Nebraska

Map Emergent Sandbar Habitats

Central Platte River Valley in Nebraska

Utilize the gMAV (T-Hawk) UAS system equipped with a high resolution digital camera to map the spatial extent and elevation of emergent sandbars along two reaches of the Platte River - July 2013.

Project Cooperators: USGS

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Male Greater Sage Grouse. Photo courtesy of USGS Fort Collins Science Center

Monitor Breeding Greater Sage-grouse

Grand County, Colorado

The objective of this project is to determine if sUAS technology is suitable for detecting and counting greater sage-grouse on lek sites - April 2013.

Photo Courtesy of USGS Fort Collins Science Center

Project Cooperators: USGS, FWS, CPW


Mojave National Preserve, CA

Identify Abandoned Materials

Mojave National Preserve in California

The USGS, in cooperation with the National Park Service (NPS) Mojave National Preserve, flew proof of concept sUAS missions to locate and survey abandoned solid waste for historical assessment potential and cleanup.

Project Cooperators: USGS, NPS

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Glines Dam Removal at Lake Mills - GoPro Hero 2 4mm

Monitor River Impacts During Dam Removal of Elwha and Glines Dams

Olympic National Park in Washington

Conduct repeated sUAS surveys to help monitor river impacts and provide much-needed data about the rates and patterns of change that occurred during the removal of Elwha and Glines dams - June, September 2012.

Project Cooperators: USGS, BOR, NPS

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Coal Basin Mine, Pitkin County, Colorado

Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Inspections

Coal Basin Mine in Pitkin County Colorado

Prototype mission using video from sUAS to identify and map abandoned mine land features such as portals and other dangerous openings, from a safe distance - September 2012.

Project Cooperators: USGS, OSM, Colorado Division of Minerals and Geology

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Haleakala National Park, Kula, Hawaii

Park Boundary Fence Inspections

Haleakala National Park in Kula, Hawaii

Feasibility study using sUAS to provide real-time assessment of park boundary fences, detect invasive plants and animals in extreme landscape conditions - May 2012.

Project Cooperators: USGS, NPS

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Contour Surface Coal Mines in West Virginia

Coal Mine Inspections

Contour Surface Coal Mines in West Virginia

The USGS, in coordination with the Office of Surface Mining (OSM), tested the utility of sUAS in supporting coal mining inspection and oversight for hard to access coal mines - November 2011-2013.

Project Cooperators: USGS, OSM

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Missouri River on the Lower Brule Reservation in South Dakota

Monitor Shoreline Erosion

Missouri River on the Lower Brule Reservation in South Dakota

The USGS provides assistance to the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe (LBST) Environmental Protection Office in monitoring erosion of the Missouri River shoreline on the Lower Brule Reservation - August 2011, 2012.

Project Cooperators: USGS, LBST

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Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, Montana

Ground Water Discharge Monitoring

Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana

Utilize sUAS thermal sensors to locate and monitor known and unknown areas of ground water discharge - August 2011.

Project Cooperators: USGS

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Boise State University Student holding Pygmy Rabbit

Pygmy Rabbit Habitat Study

Desert between Shoshone and Hailey, Idaho

Collect low-altitude UAS imagery to determine if the sUAS sensors could be used to remotely sense the quality of vegetation cover (e.g., concealment and transparency), diet (e.g., nutrients and chemical defenses), and temperatures across the landscape, and to overlay these attributes with remotely sensed movement and habitat use by wildlife - July 2011, August 2012.

Photo Courtesy of Boise State University

Project Cooperators: USGS, Boise State University, University of Idaho

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Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Crane Population Estimates

Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado

The USGS, in cooperation with the FWS utilize sUAS to determine the feasibility of using UAS technology to capture videography of roosting Sandhill Cranes to derive methodology for estimating population abundance. This mission was the first UAS operation conducted by the Department of Interior in National Airspace System (NAS) using the Federal Aviation Administration's Certificate of Authorization (COA) process - March 2011, 2012, 2013, 2016.

Project Cooperators: USGS, FWS

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Prescribed Wildfire Burn

Monitor Prescribed Wildfire Burns

Eglin Airforce Base in Florida

Conducted sUAS flight operations during prescribed burn event - February 2011.

Project Cooperators: USGS, USFS

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