Exploring No Man’s Land: The value of unmanned aerial system in the field investigation of glacial geomorphology

Authors: Yanan Li*, Department of Geography, South Dakota State University, Ping Fu, Department of Geographical Sciences, University of Nottingham, Ningbo Campus
Topics: Field Methods, Mountain Environments, Cryosphere
Keywords: field methods, glacial geomorphology, UAS(drones)
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Balcony M, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Glaciology and glacial geomorphology are essentially field sciences that require observing, surveying, and measuring in the field. However, due to the complexity and vastness of such landscapes, ground-based fieldwork is often challenging and even sometimes impossible when the site is inaccessible. With the emergence of unmanned aerial system (drones) as a portable remote sensing technology available to both the scientific community and the general public, considerations should be given to adopting this data acquisition approach as a precursor to broaden our vision in the investigation of alpine glaciers. In late July of 2017, we conducted a field expedition in the Xiata Valley, located in the central Tian Shan, Central Asia, and tested the use of a low-cost “DJI Mavic Pro” UAS in the field investigation of the Xiata glacier and its surrounding landforms. When we proceeded as farthest as we can along the moraine ridges close to the glacial tongue, the pocket-sized device was capable to fly further within a range of 7 km to near the head of the glacier. The high-resolution images and videos allowed us to have a better observation and interpretation of the morphology of the glacier and the valley. This explorative exercise aims to encourage more applications of UAS in the field study of glaciology and related disciplines. Although there are challenges and limitations of the new technology, the advantages, such as simplicity, low cost, and rapid data acquisition, possess a high value to provide quantitative and/or qualitative knowledge of remote places.

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