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NUPO Research Missions

NUPO research missions support UAS platform evaluation, sensor integration, and provide the data needed for accuracy assessments, data specification documentation and standards development.

Costs associated with completed research missions has also helped establish the baseline operational costs needed to compare UAS data collection against more traditional methods. For instance in-house UAS missions performed in 2016 cost 41% less than utilizing end-product contracts, approximately 32% less than traditional manned aircraft collection, and was seven times faster and roughly 1/10th the cost of ground-based collection.

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

John Adler (NEON) and Joe Adams (NUPO) at the Table Mountain study site.
John Adler (NEON) and Joe Adams (NUPO) at the Table Mountain study site.

Radiometric Calibration Comparisons

Table Mountain outside of Boulder Colorado

Collaborative project between NUPO and the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) aimed to provide coincident data sets for calibration comparisons between airborne remote sensing, UAS remote sensing, and field-based spectral ground truth measurements - October 2021.

Project Cooperator: National Ecological Observatory Network


Sage Lot Marsh study site in Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Sage Lot Marsh study site in Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Spectroradiometer Testing and Coastal Multispectral Invasive Grass Mapping

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

In collaboration with the Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center Aerial Imaging and Mapping (AIM) team, NUPO performed a spectroradiometer testing project at Cape Cod, MA. The primary goal of this effort was to improve our ground truthing capabilities to calibrate and validate UAS-collected multispectral and hyperspectral data for coastal natural hazard and invasive species mapping applications - October 2021.


Sony a7r 14mm image of the canyon taken from a UAS
Sony a7r 14mm image of the canyon taken from a UAS

Photogrammetric Data Collection Techniques for 3D Modeling

Cimarron Canyon in New Mexico

NUPO researchers worked with USGS geologists to establish and test unique photogrammetric data collection techniques utilizing UAS along the Paleocene Poison Canyon Formation in the Cimarron Canyon - September 2021.


UAS acquired image of part of where the East Troublesome Fire occurred
UAS acquired image of part of where the East Troublesome Fire occurred

Post Wildfire Mapping of the East Troublesome Fire Burn Area

Granby, Colorado

The Office of Wildland Fire (OWF), in partnership with NUPO, is conducting evaluations to determine best practices and methodology for data collection of post-fire events utilizing Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). Previous efforts have successfully utilized UAS technology to estimate canopy characteristics, interpret fuel model types, and calculate fire behavior - June 2021.

Project Cooperator: Office of Wildland Fire


Natural color image of the snow field acquired from a UAS
Natural color image of the snow field acquired from a UAS

Measuring Snow Depth with Lidar Data

Winter Park, Colorado

The USGS Water Resources Mission Area teamed with the NUPO to collect Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) lidar point cloud data (LPC) to calculate centimeter-level snow depth measurements. This data is part of a broader study to measure the snow-water equivalent of watersheds as part of the USGS Next Generation Water Observing System - April and February 2021, and September 2020.

No missions were performed by NUPO.

Sony a6000 image of the Pu'uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park taken from a UAS
Sony a6000 image of the Pu'uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park taken from a UAS

Sea Level Rise Preparedness

Pu'uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park, Hawaii

NUPO teamed with the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center (EROS) to collect UAS LIDAR and UAS imagery for developing an updated terrain model to address potential climate change impacts of water-level variability and identify flood hazard inundation zones. A Yellowscan Surveyor sensor mounted on a DJI Matrice was used to collect the LiDAR data and a high-resolution photogrammetric survey was acquired using a Sony A-6000 camera, also mounted on a DJI Matrice 600 - August 2019.

Project Cooperator: National Park Service


Sony A-6000 image of the Denver City Park taken from a UAS
Sony A-6000 image of the Denver City Park taken from a UAS

Urban Forest Assessments

City Park in Denver Colorado

NUPO researchers evaluated the viability of using various UAS platforms and data collection sensors to characterize and evaluate an urban forest. Flights were conducted monthly during the of summer 2019 at City Park just east of downtown Denver. A 3DR Solo quadcopter equipped with a MicaSense M multispectral camera was flown over the study area during the June flights. A DJI Matrice 600 Pro hexacopter equipped with a Sony A-6000 visible spectrum camera and a Yellowscan Surveyor LiDAR unit was flown during the July data collect. And the DJI Matrice 600 Pro was flown again in September, however the payload used during these flights was a MicaSense Altum multispectral camera - June, July and September 2019.


Ricoh image of the Fountain Creek study site taken from an UAS
Ricoh image of the Fountain Creek study site taken from an UAS

Geomorphic Monitoring to Track Degradation, Aggradation, and Surface Changes

Fountain Creek, Colorado

Study to compare UAS collected data versus traditionally manually collected data for supporting geomorphic surface monitoring - April 2019, February 2016, January and March 2017.

Sony RX1RII image of the Petrified Forest National Park taken from a UAS
Sony RX1RII image of the Petrified Forest National Park taken from a UAS

Archeological Site Management

Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona

NUPO, at the request of the National Park Service (NPS), flew data collection missions over five archeological sites within the park in October of 2018. Natural color imagery was acquired from the Ricoh GR II mounted on the 3DR Solo and the Sony RX1R II mounted on the FireFLY6 PRO. This high resolution imagery was then processed and used to produce highly accurate, high resolution 3D point clouds, orthomosaics, and digital elevation models for each site - October 2018.

Project Cooperator: National Park Service

Mission Poster Adobe PDF


Image of the Corral Bluffs team taken from a UAS mounted sensor
Image of the Corral Bluffs team taken from a UAS mounted sensor

Paleontological Surveys

Corral Bluffs near Colorado Springs, Colorado

NUPO researchers working with Denver Museum of Nature & Science flew UAS to collect imagery covering the Corral Bluffs study area. The acquired high-resolution imagery was used to create a photogrammetric surface model supporting the extraction of centimeter level elevation data for the hundreds of paleontological fossil locations. Accurate surface elevation data is crucial when back dating fossils using stratigraphy, it places a record in their relationship in the geological time scale - September 2018.

Project Cooperator: Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Mission Poster Adobe PDF


Image of the Dinosaur Ridge study site taken from a Ricoh GR II mounted on a 3DR Solo
Image of the Dinosaur Ridge study site taken from a Ricoh GR II mounted on a 3DR Solo

Geologic Hazard Analysis and Rockfall Mitigation

Dinosaur Ridge in the Morrison Fossil Area National Natural Landmark in Colorado

Jefferson County Open Space and the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge collaborated with the NUPO to collect high-resolution UAS data for use in constructing 3D photogrammetric terrain models of potential landslide areas. Dinosaur Ridge is in a segment of the Dakota Hogback in the Morrison Fossil Area National Natural Landmark located near Morrison, Colorado. A core component of the recent Dinosaur Ridge planning project is geologic hazard analysis and rockfall mitigation of the Dinosaur Ridge Park. This analysis and mitigation plan is particularly important since nearly all the site’s exhibits lie at the bottom of an unstable slope which requires continuous monitoring to protect both visitors and natural park resources. During this UAS mission imagery data was collected using a Ricoh GR II mounted on a 3DR Solo. The high-resolution imagery was used to generate photogrammetric models for the ridge, the dinosaur track site, and other areas of interest - September 2018.

Study Point of Contact: Guthrie Alexander, Geographer, Jefferson County Open Space

Mission Poster Adobe PDF


Image acquired from a sensor mounted on a UAS showing the confluence of the Blue and Colorado rivers
Image acquired from a sensor mounted on a UAS showing the confluence of the Blue and Colorado rivers

River Discharge Computations

Confluence of the Blue and Colorado Rivers near Kremmling, CO

USGS hydrologists, with help from the NUPO, planned to evaluate the value of UAS data collected over the confluence of the Blue and Colorado rivers for river discharge calculations and velocity rate evaluation. Pulse Vapor 55 helicopter flights were to be performed over the river confluence using the YellowScan Surveyor to collect LiDAR and the Nano-Hyperspec to collect hyperspectral data. However, during one of the early programmed flights, the Pulse Vapor 55 had unexpected system issues resulting in an emergency landing into the river. After recovering the Pulse from the 2-3 feet of water it had landed in further flights were cancelled - August 2018.

Study Point of Contact: Paul J. Kinzel (pjkinzel@usgs.gov), Hydrologist, USGS Integrated Modeling and Prediction Division


Image of the active lava flow at night taken from a UAS mounted sensor
Image of the active lava flow at night taken from a UAS mounted sensor

Rapid Response: Volcano Monitoring

Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii

On May 17th 2018 NUPO researchers were deployed to the site of the Kilauea Volcanic eruptions to provide UAS data acquisition and processing support. Near 24/7 monitoring of the volcanic activity was provided utilizing UAS mounted natural color, thermal and gas sensors. This near real-time monitoring of the volcano and crater lasted for several months and provided scientific measurements and modeling that should help better predict future activity - May thru September 2018.


UAS collected LiDAR of the Hart Marsh Mine study site
UAS collected LiDAR of the Hart Mine Marsh study site

Marshland Restoration Monitoring

Hart Mine Marsh in California

NUPO collaborated with the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to collect data using the Sony A7r and the YellowScan Surveyor flown on the Pulse Vapor 55 to generate digital models to aid in monitoring the overall health of the rehabilitated marsh - March 2018.

Project Cooperators: Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Sony a7r image of the Fort Laramie National Historic study site taken from a UAS
Sony a7r image of the Fort Laramie National Historic study site taken from a UAS

Bald Earth Digital Terrain Modeling

Fort Laramie National Historic Site in Wyoming

National UAS Project Office researchers flew the YellowScan LiDAR sensor mounted on the Pulse Vapor 55 to collect high-density LiDAR point cloud data to generate a bald earth digital terrain model to be used in additional flood analysis for the park. A quality control check was implemented with a stand-alone survey for research accuracy comparisons - October 2017.

Project Cooperator: National Park Service


Ricoh image of the East River taken from a UAS
Ricoh image of the East River taken from a UAS

Groundwater Discharge Identification

East River in Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

The USGS Water Mission Area Office of Groundwater Branch of Geophysics, with help from the NUPO, tested the value of UAS collected video, multispectral, and thermal infrared data collection to support integrated analysis of hydrologic data for a larger groundwater/surface-water exchange study - August 2017.


Ricoh GR image of the study site taken from a 3DR Solo
Ricoh GR image of the study site taken from a 3DR Solo

Talus and Microclimate Mapping to Identify Mechanisms of Mammalian Distribution

Bitterroot National Forest in Montana

The Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, with help from NUPO, evaluated the use of UAS in high elevation areas of Montana over Talus slopes to collect the thermal imagery needed to map unique habitats for montane species in the changing ecosystems. Talus provides unique and essential habitat for several montane species but is inadequately mapped to support studies of ecosystem dynamics. This study was designed to use new technology to model talus, microclimate, and vegetative characteristics with sensors aboard a UAS for comparison to measures from airborne LiDAR and the ground. This project also assessed data requirements and efficiency of alternative data sources for development of GIS layers that describe habitat characteristics important to montane fauna - July 2017.

Study Points of Contact: Aaron Johnston (ajohnston@usgs.gov) Ph.D., Research Wildlife Biologist and Todd Preston (tmpreston@usgs.gov), Geologist, USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center


Leaf on Ricoh GR image of the study site taken from a UAS
Leaf on Ricoh GR image of the study site taken from a UAS

Leaf Off and Leaf On for Vegetation Analysis and Inventory

Colorado State University Arboretum in Fort Collins

NUPO researchers, in collaboration with the CSU College of Agricultural Sciences, flew the 3DR Solos with MicaSense RedEdge 3 and Ricoh GR sensors over the Colorado State Arboretum during both leaf off and leaf on conditions to collect imagery and generate high resolution orthomosaics, digital elevations models (DEM), and Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) to support vegetation inventories - March and September 2017.

Project Cooperator: Colorado State University College of Agricultural Sciences


Closeup of the orthophoto mosaic generated from the UAS collected data showing the end of the ice jam
Closeup of the orthophoto mosaic generated from the UAS collected data showing the end of the ice jam

Rapid Response: Flood Monitoring

Pemigewasset River near Plymouth, New Hampshire

The National UAS Project Office, at the request of the USGS State Liaison and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, successfully performed a rapid response mission by providing UAS acquired high-resolution data over a four-mile stretch of the Pemigewasset River impacted by flooding caused by an ice dam - February 2017.

Project Cooperator: Media Wing LLC AirShark

Mission Poster Adobe PDF

UAS collected image of the Fall Creek Lake study site
UAS collected image of the Fall Creek Lake study site

Reservoir Bathymetry During Drawdowns

Fall Creek Lake in Oregon

USGS researchers evaluated the effectiveness of data collected by UAS to support the high-resolution requirements needed to generate DEMs with detailed reservoir bathymetry - November 2016.

Project Cooperator: Frontier Precision Inc.


Ricoh image of Palmyra Atoll taken from a UAS
Ricoh image of Palmyra Atoll taken from a UAS

Utilizing UAS for Data Collection at Remote Sites

Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

The USGS worked with the Palmyra Atoll cooperating scientists to evaluate the effectiveness of UAS data collection activities to support science related to lagoon flows, marine animal studies, vegetation, bird nesting areas, and underwater areas of interest - November 2016.

Project Cooperator: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


Ricoh GR II image of Devils Tower taken from a 3DR Solo
Ricoh GR II image of Devils Tower taken from a 3DR Solo

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 Cooperator: National Park Service

Mission Poster Adobe PDF


Ricoh GR II image of the Lake Milford study site taken from a 3DR Solo
Ricoh GR II image of the Lake Milford study site taken from a 3DR Solo

Examining Harmful Algal Blooms

Lake Milford near Manhattan, Kansas

USGS hydrologists and members of the National UAS Project Office conducted data acquisition flights at Lake Milford in Kansas to map extents of harmful algal blooms within and around the lake - September 2016.


Ricoh GR natural color image of the study site taken from a 3DR Solo
Ricoh GR natural color image of the study site taken from a 3DR Solo

Evaluate Bottomland Restoration Efforts

Northeastern Indiana

USGS researchers fly UAS platforms to collect natural color and multispectral data to support the evaluation of bottomland restoration efforts in northeastern Indiana - September 2016.


Ricoh image of the study site taken from a 3DR Solo
Ricoh image of the study site taken from a 3DR Solo

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 Cooperator: Bureau of Land Management


Sony a5100 image of the park taken at 300ft above ground level from a UAS
Sony a5100 image of the park taken at 300ft above ground level from a UAS

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 Cooperator: National Park Service


Sony a5100 image taken from a UAS
Sony a5100 image taken from a UAS

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.


Orthomosaic of the West Fork Mine generated by UAS acquired imagery
Orthomosaic of the West Fork Mine generated by UAS acquired imagery

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 Cooperator: 417 Drone Imaging


Photograph of the Cape Cod study site
Photograph of the Cape Cod study site

Rapid Response: Mapping 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 Cooperator: Raptor Maps, Inc.

Mission Poster Adobe PDF


Natural color image of the Mojave Desert taken from the Falcon UAS
Natural color image of the Mojave Desert taken from the Falcon UAS

Paleowetland Deposit Study

Mojave Desert in Southern California

NUPO tested high-resolution imagery collected from UAS to assist in the investigation of paleowetland deposits at numerous sites in the southwestern United States. Geologic deposits associated with springs and wetlands in arid environments provide critical information regarding the hydrologic response of small desert watersheds to climate change. Wetland deposits are often associated with faults or other substructural impediments to ground-water flow, which may be expressed at the surface by subtle features that are difficult to trace when on the outcrop. NUPO utilized UAS technology to collect high-resolution imagery in Piute Valley, Mesquite Spring, and Valley Wells, all of which are located on public lands in the Mojave Desert of southern California. The use of high-resolution imagery, particularly from low-altitude and highly maneuverable UAS, can provide critical information regarding surface and, potentially, subsurface features that will aid in interpreting the deposits - January 2016.

Study Point of Contact: Jeff Pigati (jpigati@usgs.gov), Research Geologist, USGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center

Canon S100 image of Anaho Island taken at 300 feet above ground level from a Raven UAS
Canon S100 image of Anaho Island taken at 300 feet above ground level from a Raven UAS

Census of Ground-nesting Colonial Waterbirds

Anaho Island National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada

USGS, U.S. Fish and 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: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Humboldt State University, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe

Mission Poster Adobe PDF


Canon S100 image of waterbirds taken at 200 feet above ground level from a Raven UAS
Canon S100 image of waterbirds taken at 200 feet above ground level from a Raven UAS

Waterfowl Surveys

Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma

NUPO and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service evaluated the use of UAS data collection to improve waterfowl survey accuracy and eliminate pilot/passenger safety risks associated with manned aircraft data collection. The National Wildlife Refuge System, within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, manages a national network of lands and waters set aside to conserve America's fish, wildlife, and plants. At Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge, fixed transect wintering waterfowl surveys have occurred since 2012. However, aerial transect surveys have many shortcomings, due to species identification errors associated with poor visibility and plane speed, errors associated with observer count estimates, and concerns associated with pilot and passenger safety during low-altitude winter flights. If transect surveys using UASs are successful at Sequoyah NWR, then this approach may be employed at other refuges with similar waterfowl monitoring objectives - February 2015.

Study Points of Contact: Paige M. Schmidt (paige_schmidt@fws.gov), Zone Biologist and Dustin Taylor (dustin_taylor@fws.gov), Refuge Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Orthophoto of the Sycan River generated from UAS collected data
Orthophoto of the Sycan River generated from UAS collected data

Stream Temperature Dynamics Study

Tribal Youth Program in Klamath Basin, Oregon

USGS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 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 Cooperator: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Partners in Conservation Award Adobe PDF


Canon S100 image of pelicans on Chase Island taken from a Raven UAS
Canon S100 image of pelicans on Chase Island taken from a Raven UAS

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 and August 2014.

Project Cooperator: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Mission Poster Adobe PDF


Orthomosaic of the Carrizo Plain area draped over the elevation model
Orthomosaic of the Carrizo Plain area draped over the elevation model

Elk and Vegetation Surveys

Carrizo Plain Ecological Reserve in California

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) worked with NUPO to assess the value of UAS for vegetation mapping and tule elk population estimates at the 23,000 acres of tule elk habitat in and adjacent to its Carrizo Plain Ecological Reserve. NUPO performed several UAS flights over the difficult terrain within the reserve to collect imagery and then evaluated the data for its ability to provide accurate vegetative mapping, including structural attributes. The data was also tested as a potential replacement for manned aerial surveys used to assess the tule elk population - May 2014.

Study Points of Contact: Joe Hobbs (Joe.Hobbs@wildlife.ca.gov), Statewide Elk and Antelope Coordinator, Diana Hickson (Diana.Hickson@wildlife.ca.gov), Vegetation Mapping and Rosie Yacoub (Roasalie.Yacoub@wildlife.ca.gov), GIS Analyst, California Department of Fish and Wildlife


Still image from the GoPro video of the study site taken from a Raven UAS
Still image from the GoPro video of the study site taken from a Raven UAS

Stillaguamish Indian Tribe North Cascades Elk Population Surveys

Skagit Valley in Washington

NUPO worked with the Western Washington University (WWU) to investigate the feasibility of conducting elk population surveys in dense, forested areas of the Skagit Valley of Washington using UAS technology. USGS, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Western Washington University are partnering on the Stillaguamish Indian Tribe North Cascades Elk Population Survey Project. The purpose of this project is to investigate the feasibility of conducting elk population surveys in dense, forested areas of the Skagit Valley of Washington using the color and infrared (thermal) sensors on the Raven A and T-Hawk UASs. Elk population surveys in this area have historically been conducted from manned helicopters. UAS data collection would dramatically reduce the risk and expense of these surveys. Cost reductions would permit more frequent and complete surveys which would lead to more effective management of this population - April 2014.

Study Point of Contact: David O. Wallin, Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences, Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University, david.wallin@wwu.edu

Publication:
Professor, students use UAVs to track elk herds, Western Washington University Western Today - April 17, 2014

Image collected from a UAS
Image collected from a UAS

Paleontological Pleistocene Tracks Survey

White Sands National Monument in New Mexico

Working with the Bureau of Land Management, Department of Defense and in coordination with the National Park Service, NUPO performed a proof-of-concept UAS mission to document the presence of exposed dinosaur tracks at the paleontological track site at White Sands National Monument. This pilot study prototyped the methodologies for an aerial survey for photogrammetric documentation of extremely fragile and ephemeral fossilized footprints from the late Pleistocene time period. The area of study included a portion of a Late Pleistocene megatracksite within and around White Sands National Monument. Thousands of "Ice Age" fossil vertebrate tracks and track ways which date to approximately 20,000 years ago have been documented within the White Sands megatracksite - January 2014.

Mission Poster

Image of Tomales Bay taken from a sensor mounted on the THawk UAS
Image of Tomales Bay taken from a sensor mounted on the THawk UAS

Waterfowl Census and Species Determination Surveys

Tomales Bay, California

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex partnered with NUPO to test the use of UAS technology for surveying waterbird abundance and distribution. The National Wildlife Refuge System has a legal mandate to monitor the status and trends of fish, wildlife, and plant populations on refuges. Current population surveys rely on trained observers who must count and identify large flocks of wintering waterfowl in the span of a few seconds from a fixed-wing aircraft. After low-altitude UAS missions were flown at Tomales Bay, the collected imagery was evaluated as a potential source for performing waterbird surveys as well as its ability to provide the detail needed to differentiate species - December 2013.

Study Point of Contact: Orien Richmond, Ph.D., Wildlife Biologist, Refuges Inventory & Monitoring Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Southwest Region, San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, orien_richmond@fws.gov

Publications:
Drones to test bird surveys at Tomales Bay - Point Reyes Light (ptreyeslight.com), December 5, 2013.
ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEWS AND CASE STUDIES: Applications of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) for Waterbird Surveys - Cambridge Journals (http://journals.cambridge.org), September 2015.

Canon s100 image of the Kern study site taken from the THawk UAS
Canon s100 image of the Kern study site taken from the THawk UAS

Waterfowl Census and Species Determination Surveys

Kern and Pixley National Wildlife Refuge Complex in California

NUPO, in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, tested the feasibility of using UAS for waterbird surveys, waterbird species differentiation, and night-time thermal imagery collection at the Pixley National Wildlife Refuge. Crane roosting surveys have traditionally involved surveyors stationed along the outside perimeter of the block of wetlands at the refuge to count cranes flying into the roosting area. Imagery collected by Raven UAS over the Kern and Pixley NWR Complex was used to conduct sample waterfowl population counts as well as species determination. Raven night flights, which caused minimal disturbance to the roosting cranes, were used to collect thermal imagery over the crane’s locations. This imagery not only supported crane counts, but it also provided crane locations within the managed wetland areas related to specific habitat features, data to help inform management decisions needed to maintain suitable crane roosting habitat – December 2013.

Study Point of Contact: Laura Shaskey, Wildlife Biologist, Kern National Wildlife Refuge Complex, laura_shaskey@fws.gov

Publication:
ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEWS AND CASE STUDIES: Applications of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) for Waterbird Surveys - Cambridge Journals (http://journals.cambridge.org), September 2015.

Canon SX260 color-infrared image of the refuge taken from a UAS
Canon SX260 color-infrared image of the refuge taken from a UAS

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: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


Canon SX230 image of the river valley taken by the THawk at 400 feet
Canon SX230 image of the river valley taken by the THawk at 400 feet

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.

Mission Poster Adobe PDF


GoPro image of the study site taken from a UAS
GoPro image of the study site taken from a UAS

Monitor Breeding Greater Sage-grouse

Grand County, Colorado

Working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, NUPO performed a proof-of-concept mission to determine if UAS data collection was suitable for detecting and counting greater sage-grouse on lek sites. The Greater sage-grouse is listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a species warranted but precluded for Endangered and Threatened Species status. To best manage Greater sage-grouse, accurate numbers of birds displaying at leks (breeding sites) are needed. Locating new sage-grouse leks involves hours of searching mostly on foot, with limited vantage pointsto view large expanses of the landscape. This study assessed the ability of the Raven sUAS thermal and visible wavelength sensors to detect Greater sage-grouse utilizing leks and observed their reaction to these flights near four leks in Middle Park, Colorado – April 2013.

Mission Poster Adobe PDF

Publications:
Evaluation of the Raven sUAS to Detect and Monitor Greater Sage-Grouse Leks within the Middle Park Population - USGS Open-File Report 2014-1205
Over Grand County Drones Are Bird Watching, Not People Watching - NPR for Northern Colorado, April 24, 2013

GoPro still image of the study site taken from a UAS
GoPro still image of the study site taken from a UAS

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: National Park Service

Mission Poster Adobe PDF

GoPro image of the Glines Dam removal taken from a UAS
GoPro image of the Glines Dam removal taken from a UAS

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: Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service

Mission Poster Adobe PDF


GoPro image of the study site taken from a UAS
GoPro image of the study site taken from a UAS

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: Office of Surface Mining, Colorado Division of Minerals and Geology

Mission Poster Adobe PDF


Researcher preparing to launch the Raven UAS at the Haleakala National Park
Researcher preparing to launch the Raven UAS at the Haleakala National Park

Park Boundary Fence Inspections

Haleakala National Park in Kula, Hawaii

The Haleakala Resource Management Division is responsible for the preservation and restoration of the resources in the Haleakala National Park. As a result, work crews can spend hours in rough terrain trying to find the location of invasive plants and inspecting a 50-mile barrier fence for holes, damage, and maintenance issues. To potentially mitigate staff safety issues, NUPO worked with the National Park Service to test UAS’ ability to map invasive plants and inspect fence lines in these remote inaccessible areas. During test flights use of the Ravens full motion video allowed fence line inspection to occur in real-time and provided the GPS coordinates needed to easily identify areas that required repair or further inspection. Operation of the Raven was also shown to pose little risk to native birds and emitted much less noise than a typical manned aircraft, which limited disruptions to wildlife – May 2012.

Study Point of Contact: Matt Brown, Chief of Resources Management, Haleakala National Park, Matt_Brown@nps.gov

Mission Poster Adobe PDF

GoPro Hero2 image of the Edwight Cemetery taken from the T-Hawk
GoPro Hero2 image of the Edwight Cemetery taken from the T-Hawk

Coal Mine Inspections

Contour Surface Coal Mines in West Virginia

Three separate sUAS missions were performed by the USGS NUPO, in coordination with the Office of Surface Mining, at the Powellton Surface Mine during the 2011-2013 timeframe. The Powellton Surface Mine is a contour surface mine that has several miles of installed drainage/sediment ditches and two known underground mine fires, which made it an ideal location to test the utility of the sUAS sensors for supporting coal mining inspection and oversight. The first mission occurred in November 2011 using the Raven sensors to inspect the area, but the later missions, in 2012 and 2013, used the T-Hawk, which was the first operational use of this new technology - November 2011, 2012, 2013.

Project Cooperator: Office of Surface Mining

Raven Mission Poster - November 2011 Adobe PDF
THawk Mission Poster - November 2012 Adobe PDF

Raven hand launch from a boat
Raven hand launch from a boat

Monitor Shoreline Erosion

Missouri River on the Lower Brule Reservation in South Dakota

To better evaluate the impacts of erosion the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe (LBST) Environmental Protection Office in South Dakota implemented a two year monitoring program of a study site that includes a 7-mile stretch of the Missouri River's shoreline that has experienced a high rate of bank loss, and the LBST rural water plant's intake location. However, direct shoreline access in this study area is hampered by the lack of roads, crumbling riverbanks and shallow water unsuitable for motorboat traffic. In an effort to potentially address accessibility concerns, the LBST Environmental Protection Office asked the USGS NUPO to determine if the Raven sensors could help monitor this shoreline - August 2011, 2012.

Project Cooperator: Lower Brule Sioux Tribe

Mission Poster Adobe PDF


Mission control at the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge
Mission control at the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge

Ground Water Discharge Monitoring

Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana

In August 2011, USGS performed a sUAS mission to determine if the thermal sensors on a Raven could be used to identify areas of ground water discharge. Even though these thermal sensors are not calibrated, they could still be useful by showing relative temperature differences adequate for mapping the extents of the discharge areas within the lake water bodies or near the shoreline. This was based on the premise that since all discharge water is about 15 degrees C colder than the shallow lake water during mid to late summer, thermal IR imagery should be able to detect this temperature contrast. This would allow areas of focused groundwater discharge to be identified, after which detailed measurements of rates of discharge can be made, which will allow quantification of this focused groundwater discharge - August 2011.

Mission Poster Adobe PDF


Launching the Raven at the study site
Launching the Raven at the study site

Pygmy Rabbit Habitat Study

Desert between Shoshone and Hailey, Idaho

In June and July 2011, the USGS NUPO partnered with Boise State University and the University of Idaho to determine if sUAS technology could help gather data on the landscape habitat of pygmy rabbits. Pygmy rabbits dig extensive burrow systems in areas with large sagebrush, particularly mature stands, and loss of habitat is a direct threat to the species. These rabbits are also an important food source for the many other animals in the area, with birds and other mammals being primary predators. However, the rabbit's habitat has become increasingly fragmented by development, agriculture, fire and rangeland "improvements", e.g. projects that replace big sagebrush with bunchgrasses - July 2011.

Project Cooperators: Boise State University, University of Idaho

Mission Poster Adobe PDF


GoPro image of the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge taken from a UAS
GoPro image of the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge taken from a UAS

Sandhill Crane Population Estimates

Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado

The first NUPO mission was performed in March 2011 at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), to study the feasibility of UAS for surveying Sandhill Crane populations. Successful completion of this first mission resulted in being given approval from the FAA to perform night flights during later Raven missions. Additional flights, including night flights, were performed in November 2011, March 2012, and March 2013. Final results from all of these missions were used to establish that UAS acquired imagery provides acceptable population counts without disruption to the cranes, especially when flown at night when the cranes are at rest in the roosting areas - March 2011, 2012, 2013, 2016.

Project Cooperator: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Mission Poster Adobe PDF


Mark Bauer, NUPO, preparing to hand launch the Raven at the prescribed burn
Mark Bauer, NUPO, preparing to hand launch the Raven at the prescribed burn

Monitor Prescribed Wildfire Burns

Eglin Airforce Base in Florida

NUPO, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, conducted the first UAS flights in the United States during a prescribed burn at the Prescribed Fire Combustion and Atmospheric Dynamics Research Experiment (RxCADRE) event. Since this prescribed burn was at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida all UAS operations occurred within military air space which meant that no additional flight approvals were required. The Raven, one of the three UAS platforms flown, successfully demonstrated its ability to stream live thermal IR and natural color video to the fire command center to support fire management and operations - February 2011.

Mission Poster Adobe PDF