Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2018UT210B

Mapping Subsurface Tile Drainage Systems with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Institute: Utah
Year Established: 2018 Start Date: 2018-03-01 End Date: 2019-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $21,522 Total Non-Federal Funds: $32,141

Principal Investigators: Ruijie Zeng, Alfonso Torres-Rua, Niel Allen


Subsurface tile drainage systems are commonly implemented in areas with high level of groundwater table to remove excess water from the soil. Subsurface tile drains lower the water table to a certain level below the crop root systems. In addition to increasing crop yields and reducing yield variability, tile drainage systems also change the hydrologic characteristics of surface and subsurface on the site, leading to higher level of nonpoint source pollutant concentration due to nitrate leaching at the outlet and causing water quality degradation in downstream. Although subsurface tile drainage is widely implemented in farmland in US, a comprehensive and accurate record about the location of tile drainage systems is generally unavailable, making the hydrologic prediction and water quality management of farmland difficult.

The goal of this proposed research is to map the location of subsurface tile drainage systems using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). To accomplish this, we will quantify the impact of subsurface tile drains on the land surface signatures, such as temperature, soil moisture and surface reflectivity, captured by ultra-high resolution of visible- and invisible-band images from unmanned aerial vehicles. We will tailor the UAV flight parameters for the purpose of subsurface tile drainage detection, and validate the results of UAV methods with historical in-situ records. The outcome will provide the foundation for assessing the impact of subsurface tile drainage systems on hydrologic and water quality change at farm and watershed scales.