PROJECT WILL MEASURE WATER RESERVES IN THE MOUNTAINS
USING DRONES, SCIENTISTS WILL DETERMINE THE VOLUME OF ACCUMULATED SNOW. THE INITIATIVE IS FUNDED BY THE GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE AND WILL UPDATE THE EXISTING DATA.
January 20, 2016
To know with accuracy the volumes of snow in the mountains is a necessity in the country, especially considering the irregularity in the level of rainfall registered during 2015 in the central area of the country.
To help quantify this, the Laboratory of Aerial Robotics, from the Kipus Engineering Systems Center of our University, is developing a project financed with resources from the Foundation for Agrarian Innovation (FIA) under the Department of Agriculture.
The initiative is called “Estimate of the Volume of Snow Accumulated over Large Areas, Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” and is funded through the National Call for Studies and Innovation Projects in Sustainable Agriculture 2015-2016.
Professor Matthew Bardeen is the one who leads the project together with academic Benjamin Ingram. Both professors from the Department of Engineering will capture images of the Cordillera of The Andes. The information will allow scientific measurements and studies on the volumes of snow.
“We will send the drones to take a set of photographs, and with these we will develop three-dimensional models in summer and winter. We will see the difference in the field and analyze the data to define an estimate of the volume, which will be supplemented with other data that we take in the field,” explained Bardeen.
The study will be conducted during a year, and the scientists hope to improve current estimates of the General Water Office (DGA) under the Department of Public Works. These are estimates that have a margin of error of almost 20%, which represents a high percentage, according to the professor from the Department of Engineering.
“The objective is to improve the estimation regarding how much water we have in the mountains. And this will provide information on the amount of the resource that we could have during the year, which is very significant. The current measurements have a 20% error and we want to lower that percentage,” he said.
The academic explained that it is expected to go down to 5% in the margin, which is significant for this type of calculations.
Through the three-dimensional models, the project includes covering almost five thousand hectares, which is higher than the measurements already carried out manually.
The overflights and imaging will be made in the sector of the Laguna del Maule lagoon, towards the Mountain range, as it is a place that has year-round access. In this area each year there is snow accumulation, which is transformed in water during the summer.
Professor Bardeen hopes that this research constitutes an initial stage for a broader initiative that will allow analysis of other places and spaces of greater magnitude.
“Any area from the north of the Biobio Region needs to estimate how much water it has, especially considering the climate change, because we don't yet know how global warming will affect the availability of this natural resource,” he said.
The academic stressed that each time more accurate data is required in this area, in order to manage this vital resource with the future in mind. “The water issue is very sensitive in our country and in the whole world,” he said.
The unmanned aerial vehicles that will be used are assembled in the Air Robotics Lab of our University, which gives an added value to the initiative, which has funding of almost 20 million pesos (US$ 30,000 approx.).
This lab —the first of its kind in the country— is developing multiple initiatives related to technology transfer and research. But in addition, it works in academic fields, providing tools to engineering students interested in continuing working in this new technological line.