Unmanned Aerial Systems (drones)

Why Ecology uses Unmanned Aerial Systems

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones, are aircrafts or vehicles piloted by remote control or onboard computers. The benefits that drones offer the fields of environmental monitoring and conservation are being realized by an ever-increasing number of researchers and scientists. The UAS offer quick, easy, and cost-effective insights, on demand. Their applications vary widely, as they can be used to capture extremely high resolution imagery and video that can give scientists and first responders a new perspective, and information that supports data driven decision making. Ecology operates UAS under an agency policy, following strict privacy guidelines, and in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.

Applications for UAS at Ecology

Some examples of how UAS may be used at Ecology include:

  • Aerial photography/videography
  • Coastal erosion monitoring
  • Spill response/Emergency response
  • Photogrammetry site inspections 
  • Structure-from-motion modeling 
  • Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) 
  • Vegetation mapping 
  • Air and water quality surveys 
  • Communications products and storytelling

Benefits of using UAS

  • Increased safety and reduced risk for Ecology staff
  • Scale of the landscape to be surveyed exceeds the capacity of staff and/or conventional aircraft 
  • The above ground level (AGL) operational requirements exceed the safe operation limits of conventional aircraft 
  • Survey equipment (cameras, video cameras, infrared cameras, radar, sonar, LIDAR) are best deployed using UAS
  • Manned aircraft are unavailable

Ecology UAS Project Checklists

We fill out a project checklist every time we use UAS to support our work. Currently approved projects: 

  •  Assessing macroalgae coverage and biomass on beaches (pilot project July - October, 2022): Macroalgae are not quantified on beaches, yet are a significant eyesore and health risk (E. coli survivability is high). Thickness and weight of beach wrack on beaches will be assessed along randomly selected quadrants in conjunction with drone footage flying along the beach.  This project complements the MMU BEACH program and Eyes Over Puget Sound.