Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2017MS208B

Applied use of unmanned aerial vehicles in surface water quality protection

Institute: Mississippi
Year Established: 2017 Start Date: 2017-03-01 End Date: 2019-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $15,253 Total Non-Federal Funds: $30,421

Principal Investigators: Joby Czarnecki, John Ramirez-Avila

Abstract: Erosion represents a significant detriment to Mississippi’s surface waters, as a source of both chemical (i.e., phosphorus) and physical (i.e., sediments) pollutants. Accordingly, erosion control will be necessary for maintaining the quality of Mississippi’s surface water resources, and identifying and monitoring erosion in critical areas will enable stakeholders to better manage the State’s water resources by addressing a key source of degradation. The objective of this research is to evaluate the accuracy of erosion calculations derived from Structure from Motion (SfM) captured with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The research project will combine results from SfM assessments of erosion with ground-truthed measurements of erosion to determine the accuracy of this approach for use in calculating erosion values, and extend this approach to evaluate the ability of SfM to monitor erosion over time. Derived values will be incorporated into existing models (e.g., BSTEM, CAESAR-Lisflood) to determine if SfM data are a valid model input. Data will be collected from Mississippi State University owned and managed research properties where significant erosion has been identified; some of these sites are within an EPA-designated 319(h) priority watershed. The result of this research is a scientific validation of the accuracy of erosion calculations derived from UAV-collected SfM assessments. When used appropriately, UAVs have the potential to enable rapid assessment of landscapes with reduced labor costs. The research serves as a proof-of-concept project to develop a method by which UAVs could be employed to identify, quantify, and monitor erosion in drainage channels and other eroded areas. This would enable federal, state, and local agencies to utilize this technology to more efficiently monitor, remediate, and regulate degradation of surface waters. Outputs from this research project include transfer of information on the appropriate data collection strategies for UAV-based SfM assessments, as well as best practices, along with methods, estimates of accuracy, and any necessary cautions. This data will be communicated to stakeholders through scientific exchange and interaction, in addition to the established University Extension network.