Mountain Drone Team: Connecting People with Science

October 31, 2018

Mountain Drone Team: Connecting People with Science

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Mountain Drone Team
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The Byrd Center’s Mountain Drone Team is engineering the first, custom-built, unmanned aerial system capable of 3D laser-mapping in high-mountain environments.

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This project brings together graduate and undergraduate students from science, technology, and engineering programs at The Ohio State University. As a part of Bryan Mark’s Glacier Environmental Change research group, The Mountain Drone Team (MDT) gives students a chance to investigate how climate change impacts public health.

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Recent climate warming is already affecting populated areas near the Andean tropical glaciers. The melting of these glaciers are making glacial outburst flooding, debris-flows, landslides, and avalanches a common risk for local populations. This is especially true in the Cordillera Blanca the region of Peru, where millions of people depend on glaciers for virtually all available water and must live in close proximity to glacier-related hazards.

The MDT seeks to use unmanned aerial systems as a tool to better quantify critical water resources, improve our capabilities to predict hazardous conditions, and enable informed decision-making that can decrease the likelihood of negative health impacts to local populations.

The MDT is aiming to conduct its first UAS mission in Peru by 2019.

Data the team collects can be used to understand the impact of the melting of glaciers near populated areas. The MDT is working to leverage the Byrd Center’s history of working in the area for over four decades (including Documenting the Demise of Quelccaya, as well as conducting UAV Mapping of Debris Covered Glacier Change, Llaca Glacier), to bring the latest, innovative applied science to the region.

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Mountain Drone Mapping Great Basin
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Mountain Drone Mapping Great Basin
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In August 2018, the MDT created a 3D map of Lehman rock glacier in Great Basin National Park using a prototype UAS.

In August, 2018, the MDT engineered a working UAS prototype and successfully demonstrated its capabilities and general 3D mapping workflow. The team used photogrammetry-rigged UAS at Great Basin National Park to map the Lehman rock glacier as part of the Department of Geography's ongoing field research/teaching experience for undergraduate and graduate students (GBEX).

The data collected at the national park, was processed in partnership with the Ohio Supercomputer Center and the School of Earth Sciences to assess how ice loss in the park affects water resources for nearby ranching communities. The MDT is grateful for the ongoing support of the Department of Geography, The Sharpe Innovation Commons in Derby Hall, and the College of Nursing's Innovation Studio.

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Meet the Mountain Drone Team

Forrest Schoessow

Forrest Schoessow

Mountain Drone Team Lead

"Throughout the tropical Andes, the cryosphere is destabilizing as climate warms. Mountain glaciers at low latitudes are already receding rapidly, and are vulnerable to model projections of enhanced warming in the coming century. The transformation of snow and glacial ice loss is inextricably linked to water availability, water quality, and geohydro hazard risk that have broad human impacts in watersheds below. Since these changes are underway and not likely to be halted, there is a pressing need for more highly accurate, cross scale, on-demand, spatially distributed data to inform scientific understanding and adaptive risk management strategies. We are leveraging OSU tech and science advances in an effort to transform the way geographers and earth scientists view our planet's changing mountain systems."