• Research Takes to the Skies  
    Phil Ashworth with the radio-controlled quadcopter that is being used to map bed morphology to 5mm ground resolution and quantify sediment transport rate and direction.
  • View of the researchers from above, taken by the quadcopter.
  • Professor Ashworth.


Research Takes to the Skies  

Jun 03 2015

The University of Brighton is using a drone in Western Canada to map a river bed both above and below water level, and then model how sandy rivers respond to human interference and environmental change.

The radio-controlled quadcopter gives scientists an aerial view of the river at such a high resolution that is possible to see a 10p coin on the ground.

Phil Ashworth, Professor of Physical Geography, is leading the technological development of the drone following a Natural Environment Research Council grant of £742,000 to a team of researchers from Brighton, Exeter, Hull, Birmingham and Illinois universities.

The three-year project will map changes in river bed morphology on the sandy-bed South Saskatchewan River, six hours travel-time from Calgary, Western Canada.

Professor Ashworth said: “The channels and sand bars on this 600m-wide river move rapidly – up to 1m per day during summer low flows. The research project will use the drone to make daily maps of channel change to allow calculation of the direction and rate of sediment movement. These data will then feed into a numerical model that can be used to predict how river channel respond to environmental change and human interference.

“Drones are becoming increasingly useful for viewing and mapping landscapes. Our team is taking this technology one step further – allowing mapping of the river bed below the water surface. We aim to produce some of the highest-ever resolution maps of river topography which can then be used to measure change at sub-decimetre scale. We aim to take this technology to corners of the earth where mapping is notoriously difficult because of remoteness and barriers to direct access.”

Professor Ashworth has worked on the South Saskatchewan River for over 15 years with both research council and oil company support. 


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