5 Reasons Drones are the Future of Arctic Research
This is part of the series “Drones are the Future” – a collection of posts outlining the positive impact UAVs will have on our world in the not-so-distant future.
Arctic Research Drones
In the case of the Arctic Circle, the future is already here. The drones have already arrived, and more are coming.
Thanks to their low cost, ability to fly in virtually any weather condition, and the fact they can be launched from land, boat, or aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have begun to provide valuable service to environmental agencies and researchers. But that, as they say, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Here are five ways that drones will impact Arctic research in the not-so-distant future:
1) Monitor Wildlife
In the past, biologists working to study migrations and habits of Arctic animal species have had to spend great amounts of time in harsh climates and remote locations to conduct their research. Drones can do much of this work for them, eliminating a great deal of risk and time.
Scientists will use drones to study the populations of walrus and polar bear in the region. Theycan map the breeding grounds of sea lions and monitor the migration patterns of whales. Officials will use UAVs to survey rich fisheries in hard to reach places.
Image recognition software will change the way wildlife is monitored. An unmanned vehicle can be launched from a ship, collect thousands of images, and have them analyzed in a matter of hours.
UAVs are smaller and quieter, and much less intrusive to the resident wildlife population than noisy helicopters or planes that must swoop low to gather data.
2) Research Climate Change
The Arctic has been called the “canary in the mine” of climate change. The remoteness of the area has traditionally made the collection of basic meteorological information challenging. Arctic research drones of tomorrow will obtain environmental data on temperature, pressure, humidity and wind.
UAVs have already been deployed to were deployed to the polar regions to study the melting of the ice. For example, glaciers in Greenland are photographed by an unmanned vehicles on a remote control. Ground mapping.
Arctic vegetation is expected to change drastically in the next hundred years thanks to increasing temperatures. Drones will be used to monitor the change by taking high resolution aerial photos and covering hundreds of thousands of square miles efficiently.
3) Bolster our Energy Supply
The U.S. Department of Energy believes the Arctic could contain 22% of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas reserves. That’s the equivalent of billions of barrels of petroleum and natural gas equivalent.
Exploration in the Arctic is tremendously challenging. With scarce daylight for a good part of the year, treacherous and fast-changing weather conditions, and vast seas covered by ice and floes, both land and air surveying of the area is dangerous, expensive, and inefficient.
Drones can provide aerial ground mapping. They can inspect oil pipelines for damage or needed maintenance. By watching wildlife monitoring via UAV data, oil companies may reduce their environmental footprint when planning to drill for oil or lay pipe.
When eco-disaster strikes, drones can be quick to the scene of an oil spill, spotting affected birds or mammals and assessing shoreline damage, thus speeding up containment and cleanup efforts.
4) Identify Safe, Ice-Free Shipping Lanes
Sea ice is unpredictable and ever-changing. In the ice-covered waters of the Arctic, navigating the ice in front of them is a full-time job for ship captains. Choosing the wrong path can waste fuel, slow down delivery times and be dangerous if the ship receives damage or gets trapped in the ice.
Typically ship captains rely on satellite images to give a large view of the area in front of a ship. Drones of the future, however, will give clearer (and closer) imagery to provide realtime pictures of what lies ahead, helping navigators to plot the safest and fastest course. Meager investments in drone technology could lead to healthy savings in time, fuel usage and ship repairs.
5) Protect and Save Human Life
Given inhospitable and unpredictable weather, drones are sometimes the only way to conduct search and rescue operations in the Arctic without putting more lives at risk. In cold temperatures, time is of the essence, and drones can obtain data quickly and cost-effectively.
In addition, UAVs have been used to scout for creatures that humans working a construction job would not like to run into while on the job. Polar bear sightings are great from afar, but when you’re on a fuel resupply mission, it’s not ideal to get up close with the natural predator.
While hobbyists, entrepreneurs and the FAA wrangle about drone use in more populated areas, the Arctic has virtually no people and plenty of jobs to do. For this reason, officials are quicker to grant permission to use drones for commercial and research purposes. Arctic research drones will bring much needed data, at a very low cost, in the world’s least human-friendly climates.
Additional Resources and Information
- Climate Central
- Aarhus University
- Alaska Dispatch News
- The Arctic Journal
- Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University