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The OAR ORTA UxSRTO is no longer operating.

For further information, please visit The Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) Uncrewed Systems Program webpage.

Alaskan River Watch 2017 – Arctic Rapid Response Use of UAS to Support Alaskan River Ice Breakup Monitoring Complete


The annual spring breakup of Alaskan rivers brings the threat of flooding from ice jams that dam river channels and cause water to backup and inundate communities. NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) and the Alaska Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management have monitored Alaskan rivers during breakup to provide advanced warning of flooding for several decades as part of the River Watch program using a fixed wing aircraft. In recent years, advancements in temporal and spatial resolution of polar orbiting satellites has improved broad scale monitoring of river ice conditions and flooding, but grid cell size of satellite imagery is often limited to the largest channels, restricted to a fixed time of satellite passage, and requires cloud free days.

Beginning on May 4th, NOAA’s NWS and UAS Program Office, two Cooperative Institutes and the Alaska Center for UAS Integration (ACUASI) partnered to evaluate the use of UAS to monitor ice conditions and breakup with significantly higher temporal and spatial resolution than presently available from satellite imagery. The objectives of this proof of concept was to examine near real-time operational forecaster Decision Support Service (DSS), provide rapid response surveillance of river ice and/or flooding, and to validate and calibrate satellite derived river ice and flood products. The Yukon River at Circle City located approximately 150 miles northeast of Fairbanks was selected for the mission for several reasons: the community is on the road system; the River Watch team monitors this reach of the Yukon River; data collection compliments other larger scale, fixed wing mapping in the area by the University of Alaska; and the community frequently experiences spring ice jam flooding. This year, the “Alert 48” was established on April 28th and executed on May 4th with UAS missions to follow.

Total flights on this mission:

  • Thursday (5/4): evening
  • Friday (5/5): noon, afternoon and evening
  • Saturday (5/6): noon, afternoon and evening
  • Sunday (5/7): noon, and evening
  • Monday (5/8): noon, afternoon and evening
  • With a total of eleven flights with the University of Alaska – Fairbank’s Responser UAS.

In the months to come we will process the data and compile all into a report.

This River Watch 2016-17 missions have brought federal, state, local, academic and industry partners together to provide a multi-mission, multi-aircraft, and multi-sensor event in support of the Alaskan River Watch and included STEM with the local school. This mission will continue in 2018 with more evolved platforms and payloads.

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