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October 18, 2017

UAV Applications for Reclamation

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are versatile and efficient mapping tools that are ideal for monitoring and managing land. In Alberta companies have a mandate to conduct responsible industrial development. This mandate includes restoring land that has been disturbed by industrial activities; this process of restoring land is called reclamation. UAVs could be used in a number of ways to aide the reclamation process but the most practical use would be in monitoring and assessing reclamation efforts.

How UAVs can be used to monitor and assess reclamation is through a combination of camera technologies, photogrammetry, remote sensing, and GIS. Reclamation in Alberta mostly concentrates on re-establishing native plant species, replacing soil, and re-contouring the land to its original state. Using multi-spectral and high-resolution RGB cameras a UAV crew could efficiently map out the topography and vegetation of a reclamation site. This is done by having a 2 person crew travel to the reclamation site and programming the UAV to conduct a flight plan while also taking pictures of the reclamation site with a certain camera on board. As the UAV flies it takes photos at key locations so that it covers the entire site then the photos are geotagged and stitched together into a digital ortho-photo map (DOM) in a process called photogrammetry. Remote sensing and GIS techniques can then be used to map out the current topography and vegetation of the site.

Other methods could be used in order to map and monitor reclamation sites but the main advantage of using UAVs is the cost-savings and the level of detail of the final deliverable. Conducting a topographic or vegetation survey using traditional methods and ground crews would be less efficient and more costly than a 2 person UAV crew. Using manned aircraft and LiDAR would also be cost prohibitive unless the intent is to map out a very large area. Satellite data can also be used to map out vegetation and topography at a relatively low cost but the quality and level of detail of the resulting maps will be low in comparison to UAV data.