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

UAS Program Conducts Unmanned Aerial System-Based Lidar and Imagery in National Estuarine Research Reserve Marshes: Post Mission Review

Dr. Kirk Waters, PhD from NOAA Office for Coastal Management’s Applied Sciences Program led the team and review as Principle Investigator with PrecionHawk UAS supporting the effort.


The NOAA UAS Program conducted the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)-Based Lidar and Imagery in National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) Marshes Post Mission Review on November 21st to assess the Readiness Level (RL) of the UAS, sensors and application in the operational NERR environment. The UAS missions were to acquire multi-spectral imagery and lidar in three different NERR ecosystems. The following were the mission objectives:

  • Evaluate the horizontal and vertical accuracy of UAS georeferenced imagery and lidar
  • Evaluate this lidar to measure ground elevations through marsh vegetation and compare to manned systems lidar
  • Assess the trade-offs between UAS lidar and interpolated Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) transects
  • Compare UAS imagery to manned systems imagery at the supervised classification step of vegetation mapping
  • Evaluate the gains from additional data sources compared to imagery alone for vegetation mapping
  • Evaluate the ability of the private sector to provide UAS-based data using a Brooks Act contract

Two surveys per site to provide multi-season imagery and elevation repeatability using the following platforms:

  • Lancaster 5
    • Fixed wing
    • JCNERR: Lidar and Imagery
    • GBNERR: Lidar
  • Matrice 100
    • Quadcopter
    • GBNERR: Imagery
  • Matrice 600
    • Hexacopter

–SFBNERR: Lidar and Imagery

The mission and mission objectives were successfully fulfilled and RLs were deemed 8 with Transition Planning and funding in work. It was highlighted that the Public Private Partnership was critical to improvement of the survey data throughout the mission by bringing the best technology (platforms and systems to the field to fulfill the requirements. As this technology becomes obsolete rapidly, buying data allows industry to bring the newest, most update systems to field. Additionally,

  • We believe the UAS data can meet similar accuracy requirements used for manned flights with proper care (e.g. ground control)
  • SfM may not be a good choice in homogeneous marsh areas
  • UAS lidar penetration in marshes appears to have an advantage over manned and much higher density
  • UAS imagery advantages for habitat mapping are still being evaluated
  • The private sector data is of higher quality than the previous UAS data in GBNERR we reviewed
  • Can be cost effective, though right technology is situation dependent

Please contact John “JC” Coffey with any questions.

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