AzWSC Capabilities: Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Science Center Objects

The Arizona Water Science Center (AzWSC) maintains a robust Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) program, functioning as a regional field office for the USGS National Unmanned Projects Office (NUPO).  We assist with close-range remote sensing data collection and processing for our regional and national cooperators including other Dept of Interior (DOI) Bureaus, while complying with all DOI and FAA regulation and requirements. 

The AzWSC maintains a fleet of UAS with a variety of sensors throughout the state capable of capturing geospatial data at different spatial scales, generally flying between 100 and 1,200 feet above ground level and collecting data between 0.2 to 5-inch pixel resolution.  The AzWSC staff continue to grow and adapt as UAS platforms, sensors and capabilities change.  In addition to data collection, staff are also able to provide accredited flight training, basic operator, additional UAS pilot certifications, and advanced project management and data processing courses to DOI staff. 

AzWSC staff collect data to assist day-to-day stream gage operations, including channel mapping for 1 and 2D hydraulic models, as well as video velocimetry measurements of flood conditions to accurately measure high flow conditions while reducing risk and exposure to staff.  Our Center’s level of UAS expertise and readiness in basic and advanced UAS operations is a national resource by providing a pool of capable operators to respond to natural disasters and assist on large scale data collection efforts.


Data collection for our cooperators has included:

  • Thermal infrared mapping of: spring resources (detection and localization), riparian habitat monitoring for threatened species, animal population counts and species concentration (Sandhill Cranes, White Tail Deer);
  • Near-infrared data collection for: vegetation health and productivity, plant species identification, photosynthetic production in cryptobiotic soil crusts, burn severity response in soils, and avian species habitat monitoring and assessment;
  • Color electro-optical photography and videography for: terrain mapping and surface model creation, orthoimage creation, change detection in vegetation and riverine environments, surface velocity profiling of water and lava, habitat assessment, swan population counts, search and rescue operations, increased situational awareness for emergency response, archeological site mapping and resource assessment and management, site video and map reconnaissance, and forest health and management metrics.


Cooperators include: AZ Maricopa County, AZ Dept of Transportation, US Federal Highways Administration, US Department of Interior, US National Parks Service, US Bureau of Land Management, US Bureau of Reclamation, US Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Dept of Interior Interagency Fire