Scientists of the University of Lisbon investigate context of Climate Change with the help of drones

UgCS: Flight Planning & Control
March 3, 2020

In the current context of Climate Change, it is essential to know how different variables such as glaciers, permafrost, and vegetation are responding to it around the world. Over the past 50 years, the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula has been one of the most rapidly warming parts of the planet.

Scientists funded by the Portuguese Polar Program are working there at this moment in order to investigate and contribute to the understanding of these changes.UgCS Desktop software provides invaluable assistance in the mission.

(Left) Mosaic and (Right) Hillshade of the rock glacier.

Two projects, VEGETANTAR-2 and PERMANTAR are analyzing the vegetation cover distribution and the permafrost-active layer thermal regime in the Antarctic Peninsula, respectively. Both groups are using some UAV platforms in order to obtain high-resolution DSMs and mosaics of the ice-free areas of the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula.

With these products, they can improve the spatial modeling of variables such as:

  • ground, air and surface temperatures,
  • the surface wind pattern,
  • build detailed geomorphological maps in order to detect geological hazards on the Antarctic infrastructure,
  • analyze the changes in the distribution of the vegetation and its relationship with glacier retreat, among others.

To achieve this objective, the groups are using a DJI Phantom 4 Pro, a DJI Mavic Pro and a 3DR Solo with a Multispectral MicaSense RedEdge-MX camera.

UAV missions are planned with the UgCS software which is extremely useful due to UgCS ability to incorporate with accuracy the terrain elevation of the area to be surveyed. Licenses provided to the CERENA-IST and to the CEG-IGOT teams, of the College on Polar and Extreme Environments of the University of Lisbon.

Survey mission planned with automatic UgCS Area Scan tool with Terrain Following

The used DEM´s were downloaded from the “Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica” (REMA), which are in open access and have from 8 to 200 m pixel resolution.

After some test flights, UAV pilots decided to use the Area Scan tool combined with a 3s timelapse shoot in the UgCS software, since they allow to cover larger areas per flight compared to the Photogrammetric tool, due to the waypoints limitation of the DJI´s SDK. These tests showed that the best results were obtained flying at 70 m above the ground level (with terrain following), with 25 m of lateral spacing between flight lines and 6 m/s flight speed. With these parameters, the final DSM shows 7 cm/pixel and the mosaics are close to 2 cm/pixel.

The VEGETANTAR-2 and the PERMANTAR projects have made over 13 automatic UAV flights and taken more than 4'000 pictures in only one week using this methodology. Acquired data has covered several parts of the ice-free areas of the Hurd Peninsula and during the next days will extend their flights to Byers Peninsula in Livingston Island.

Mission planning of a rock glacier in False Bay at Hurd Peninsula (2D)
Mission planning with terrain awareness of a rock glacier in False Bay at Hurd Peninsula (3D)