Research 341: Assessing the Potential of Drones to Take Water Samples and Physico-chemical Data from Open Lakes

Authors: Heather Lally, Ian O’Connor, Liam Broderick, Mark Broderick, Olaf Jensen and Conor Graham

Summary: Water sampling remains a key component in the monitoring and assessment of aquatic environments. Sampling requiring the use of a boat can lead to issues around accessibility, particularly at remote lakes where there may be a lack of a slipway. This research has successfully demonstrated that water chemistry data collected using drone water sampling methods are not statistically different from those produced by boat sampling.

Published: 2020

ISBN: 978-1-84095-942-0

Pages: 40

Filesize: 3,064KB

Format: pdf

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Project Highlights

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Identifying Pressures

Water sampling remains a key component in the monitoring and assessment of aquatic environments. Sampling requiring the use of a boat can lead to issues around accessibility, particularly at remote lakes where there may be a lack of a slipway. In addition, there are considerable cost implications, mainly related to the boat costs, the need for different-sized boats for different lakes and the significant time and resource requirements. Boat sampling can also pose many health and safety issues, as well as biosecurity risks, which can be exacerbated in remote regions where access is difficult. The application of drones to collect in situ hydrochemical data and retrieve water samples from freshwater environments provides the potential to fulfil some aspects of the biological and physicochemical sampling required to meet large-scale water sampling programmes in a more efficient, safe and cost-effective manner.

Informing Policy

This research has successfully demonstrated that water chemistry data collected using drone water sampling methods are not statistically different from those produced by boat sampling. The studies undertaken have shown that data precision and accuracy are not adversely impacted when using drone sampling compared with traditional boat sampling methods. This comparative analysis satisfies the requirements of the European Union Water Framework Directive (WFD) sampling objectives for lake water monitoring and therefore can be applied to largescale water sampling programmes worldwide, such as the United Nations Global Environment Monitoring System for Freshwater (GEMS/Water), Marine Strategy Framework Directive and US National Aquatic Resource Surveys. Drone water sampling also offers a unique opportunity to sample unmonitored lakes under the WFD in Ireland and remote and inaccessible lakes worldwide and confirm the water quality and ecological status of aquatic environments determined using remote sensing methods.

Developing Solutions

The project team is the first research team in Ireland and Europe to capture a 2-L water sample using a drone. This research has made several significant contributions towards the advancement and application of drone water sampling methods. These include the successful deployment, as demonstrated during field trials, of a DJI M600 Pro drone and attached payload capable of capturing a 2-L water sample and real-time physicochemical data, 100 metres offshore, from open lakes in the west of Ireland. Water sampling times using the drone were 4 minutes and water volume capture rates were 100%. Drone water sampling was found to be 2.3 to 3.4 times faster than boat sampling,
depending on resource allocation. In contrast, however, the capital investment costs for boat sampling were found to be 1.2 to 1.5 times lower than those required for drone water sampling. However, drone water sampling reduced the health and safety and biosecurity risks associated with boat sampling. Overall, the application of drone water sampling for large-scale water sampling programmes has been successfully demonstrated and can be adapted as needed to aquatic environments worldwide.