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Drought Monitoring with LiDAR Drones – Nasa’s Perspective

Drought Monitoring with LiDAR Drones – Nasa’s Perspective


The escalating challenges of global warming, particularly the increasing frequency and severity of droughts, have prompted a pivotal study by NASA titled “Drought Monitoring with Drones, A Hundred Fields at a Time”. This research underlines the critical need for advanced drought monitoring techniques. Traditional satellite-based systems, while useful, are insufficient for detailed local analysis. This gap has been addressed in NASA's innovative exploration of LiDAR drone technology and how it can aid in environmental drought monitoring. In this context, products like the DJI M350 drone and the DJI L2 LiDAR sensor are not just tools but revolutionary solutions in environmental monitoring.



The Limitations of Satellite-Based Drought Monitoring

NASA's study identifies significant limitations in current satellite-based drought monitoring systems. For example, NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite produces data at a resolution of 36 km, which improves to only 3 km even when combined with radar measurements. This resolution is deemed useful at regional rather than local spatial scales. These systems lack the necessary resolution and frequency to accurately capture local environmental changes, often hindered by cloud cover and unable to provide real-time data. Drones, on the other hand, offer enhanced precision and flexibility, capable of covering larger areas of land and reaching difficult-to-access areas.



Advantages of LiDAR Drones in Drought Monitoring

The NASA study advocates for the use of LiDAR drones, which stand out for their agility, precision, and efficiency. These drones, equipped with Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensors, hyperspectral cameras, and weather sensors, provide a more nuanced and comprehensive approach to drought monitoring:


  1. Detailed Local Analysis: LiDAR sensors in combination with hyperspectral, and RGB sensors can capture high-resolution data, providing intricate details about soil moisture levels, plant health, and other vital drought indicators. This level of detail is invaluable for local agricultural management and environmental conservation efforts.


  1. Real-Time Data Collection: Unlike satellites, drones can offer real-time data, enabling environmental agencies to respond quickly to changing drought conditions. This immediate data access is critical for effective water resource management and mitigating the impacts of droughts.


  1. Versatility and Accessibility: Drones can access areas that are otherwise difficult to reach, providing a more comprehensive view of the terrain. This versatility makes them an indispensable tool for environmental consultants and surveyors.


Challenges and Solutions in Implementing Drone-Based Systems

While advocating for drone technology, NASA's study also addresses the challenges in implementation. Technical issues like battery life and data processing, alongside regulatory hurdles, are significant. The study emphasizes the need for ongoing technological advancements and collaboration between government and private sectors to navigate these challenges effectively.



NASA  identified several agricultural and non-agricultural applications for drones in drought monitoring:

Agricultural Applications


  1. Leak Detection in Irrigation Systems: Drones can be used to detect leaks in water distribution pipes and irrigation systems on farms. By analyzing soil moisture data and observing increased vegetation in specific areas, drones can identify leaks, which is particularly useful for monitoring pipes that span large distances.


  1. Groundwater Monitoring: Proper monitoring of groundwater is vital for the sustainability of water supply, especially for rural residents who rely on groundwater from wells. Drones can help in developing groundwater sustainability plans by providing information on groundwater levels over wide areas. This data assists in preventing over-pumping and reducing the effects of droughts.


Non-Agricultural Applications

  1. Urban Drought Management: Drones can play a critical role in managing droughts in urban environments. They can be used for monitoring and measuring stress and pressures on water facilities such as dams, treatment facilities, and piping. Thermal cameras on drones, like the DJI H20T, can monitor the heat created from structural stresses or uplift pressures, helping to prevent catastrophic damage to water facilities.


These applications demonstrate the versatility of drones in both agricultural and urban settings, highlighting their potential to significantly contribute to effective drought management and water conservation. 

As we navigate the challenges posed by global warming, the role of innovative technologies like LiDAR drones in environmental monitoring becomes increasingly crucial. For professionals in environmental surveying and consultancy, embracing these technologies not only offers a competitive edge but also contributes significantly to global sustainability efforts. As such, environmental agencies are encouraged to invest in drones and LiDAR sensors, paving the way for a more resilient and proactive approach to drought monitoring and management. 

To learn more about how drone technology can be utilized in environmental drought monitoring operations, contact us today! As per the Candrone Standard, any equipment you purchase from us will come bundled with complimentary training.


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