Following our investigation into the feasibility of using UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to improve mapping of the extent of flooding events, we have further researched their potential use in mapping the UK’s waterways.

Key facts

    • We used UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to obtain aerial imagery, captured at three resolutions (2.5cm, 5cm and 10cm), along a 1.4km stretch of the River Dee in Wales.
    • This data can then be used in river management, restoration and river quality regulatory frameworks.
    • The research was carried out in collaboration with the Environment Agency in the UK and a Spanish research institution, University of Castilla-La Mancha (UCLM), and its Regional Centre of Water Research.
  • Funded by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Environment Agency.

Impact of our research

Our collaborative research shows that UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) technology could be essential for unbiased assessment of our waterways. This data could be used in river management, restoration and river quality regulatory frameworks, ultimately improving water quality for the benefit of landowners, local authorities and the general population.

The UAVs identified features in the water at three resolutions (2.5cm, 5cm and 10cm) along a 1.4km length of the River Dee in Wales. The results show that resolution does play a key role in the accuracy and variety of features identified and this, in turn, has an impact on the ecological characterisation of the river.

Why the research was commissioned

There has been a strong legislative effort to improve the quality of freshwater ecosystems at both European and international level in the last few decades. The Water Framework Directive dictates the parameters to be monitored for the assessment of the ecological status of any given water body within Europe.

Aerial imagery is used to identify existing features in the water through either visual observation or automated classification techniques. Evidence suggested that the success in feature identification relied on the resolution of the imagery used, although little effort had previously been made to quantify the uncertainty in feature identification associated with the resolution of the aerial imagery.

Why Cranfield?

We undertook this research due to our expertise in environmental monitoring and in the use of emerging technologies such as recent research into using drones to manage flood risk (Drone Watch project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council).