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How Drones Are Helping The Environment, And Why That’s Important

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As drone technology improves, its uses are increasing. Today, scientists, conservationists, farmers, clean energy companies and others are using the technology to help the environment. Here’s how.

Mapping and Environmental Monitoring

Drones can quickly fly over fairly land areas of land to assist with mapping and environmental monitoring. Drones can accomplish these tasks much more quickly and cost-effectively than other methods and are ideal for remote or hard-to-reach locations.

Drones can be outfitted with all sorts of technologies including cameras, thermometers, humidity, and pressure sensors, wind gauges and more, which enables them to collect important environmental data. A drone could repeatedly collect this data and eliminate the need to send people out into potentially unsafe conditions.

Greening Agriculture

Farmers can also use drones to monitor their fields. The information that drones can collect can enable precision farming practices.

Rather than using greenhouse gas-emitting equipment like tractors or inspecting fields by hand, farmers can use drones to analyze vegetation growth, soil health and other factors. This enables them to determine precisely where they need more water, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and how much to use. This is a great way to reduce water waste and the amount of potentially harmful chemicals that farmers need to use.

Researchers at Moscow’s Timiryazev State Agrarian University, for example, used drones to survey a wheat field and apply precise amounts of fertilizer. This enabled them to reduce fertilizer use by 20 percent.

Monitoring Ocean Health

People typically think of drones as aerial vehicles, but there are also underwater drones, which be used to conduct research in oceans, river, and lakes and monitor the health of marine ecosystems. This can enhance safety for researchers by reducing or eliminating the need for them to go underwater, which can be dangerous. Underwater drones can also enable researchers to reach places they otherwise could not.

Researchers in St. Andrews, New Brunswick have used underwater drones to better understand the impact of aquaculture operations on the surrounding environment. The drones collect water and sediment samples that scientists analyze to determine what species are living in a given area and how the makeup of species may have changed since the introduction of aquaculture.

Supporting Clean Energy

Drones are also playing an increasingly important role in the clean energy sector. They can be used during siting, installation, monitoring and more.

Drones can quickly fly over potential utility-scale renewable energy project sites to help companies choose locations. They can also fly over existing fields of solar panels and use infrared sensors to detect panels that are no longer working. They can also be used for inspecting rooftop solar panels and ensuring they’re in the optimal position for maximum energy production. Solar companies say drones can reduce the time needed for residential solar module measurement by as much as 50 percent.

Additionally, they can inspect wind turbines for damage, increasing safety for workers by eliminating the need for them to climb to the top of the turbines.

Monitoring Wildlife

Drones are also useful for monitoring wildlife. They can help scientists to monitor populations sizes, track migration patterns and more, all without disturbing the animals by getting too close to them. Australian researchers recently conducted a study to test the accuracy of using drones to count wildlife populations and found that it was more precise than other methods.

Conservationists are also using drones to watch for poachers and prevent them from killing protected animals. If poachers see a drone flying over a wildlife park, they’ll likely turn away for fear of getting caught.

Final Thoughts

Drones can do a lot more than take cool photos and videos. They can protect the environment in a variety of ways. We’ll likely see more uses for drones arise in the near future too. Companies may soon start using UAVs to deliver packages, which could reduce carbon emissions associated with shipping. Amazon, Google, DHL and others are already looking it.

UAVs are a powerful technology with a lot of potential applications. One of the most important may be protecting the environment.

Emily is the editor of Conservation Folks and covers topics in sustainability and renewable energy.


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