May 29, 2019

Aquatic Airshow Tests Stream Gauging

Scientists evaluate aircraft systems and drone to gauge stream stage, velocity & discharge

Photo of 2019 Aquatic Airshow participants at Androscoggin River in Auburn, Maine, on May 1, 2019.  Courtesy of Mario Martin-Alciati, U.S. Geological Survey.
Photo of 2019 Aquatic Airshow participants at Androscoggin River in Auburn, Maine, on May 1, 2019. Courtesy of Mario Martin-Alciati, U.S. Geological Survey.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and scientists gathered in Auburn, Maine, to evaluate the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, to gauge stream stage, velocity, bathymetry and discharge. According to Woolpert, the technology is being evaluated and modeled to determine whether it will support the fast, accurate and safe measurement of rivers. This technology will help in instances of flooding and severe weather.

Around two dozen hydrologic, geospatial and scientific experts gathered in the “2019 Aquatic Airshow” to assess the technology. According to Woolpert, “the USGS Water Mission Area works with partners to monitor, assess, research and report on a wide range of water resources and conditions, including streamflow, groundwater, water quality, water use and water availability.”

According to Woolpert, the testing involved equipping drones with noncontact sensors, and high-resolution cameras for mapping of surface topography and vegetation structure. Team members from USGS Water Science Centers in Colorado, New England and Virginia collected river monitoring data with acoustic doppler current profilers deployed from a boat to verify the accuracy of the data.

Woolpert Chief Scientist Qassim Abdullah was one scientist asked to participate in the airshow.

Abdullah developed a process for the event where the data collected by the drones underwent Pix4D triangular adjustment to produce three-dimensional models of the water surface and river edges. According to Woolpert, this was to assist in the modeling of river velocity using the doppler velocity radar and large-scale particle image velocimetry.

Abdullah said the show was a success due to contributions from each member of the team, their backgrounds and focus on water research.

“This was a great example of how a public-private partnership can work together to activate and elevate necessary, groundbreaking technologies to address worldwide issues,” Abdullah said in a press release. “Airshow team members brought different perspectives, processes and applications to the testing, which not only proved essential for this project but will help with many others moving forward. I love working with this group and look forward to continuing to help advance these vital technologies.”

USGS scientists are currently evaluating the data and modeling produced by testing to conclude whether this technology will prove beneficial.

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