Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Science Center Objects

The USGS Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Water Science Center has become a regional leader in using Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), also known as drones, for mapping and hazards analysis.

Tanja Williamson and Shawn Meyer - UAS
Shawn Meyer & Tanja Williamson - UAS flight

UAS are now a method of: 

  • documenting research sites,
  • helping with hazard response, and
  • better understanding hydrologic systems in agricultural, developed, and forested landscapes

 A critical part of our program is the pilot certification process and how pilot credentials are maintained – this helps us fly safely and effectively.  This is combined with field and processing methods that follow documented workflows, similar to other USGS data collection.

Our current team includes a research hydrologist and pilot.  Our fleet consists of two quadcopters, in addition to video and still cameras for visible, multispectral, and infrared imagery.  Usually, we combine multiple types of imagery in order to best understand the hydrology at a field site. 


Photo of tile drain showing flow of water and broken tile drains
Map of tile drain showing flow of water and broken tile drains

A critical aspect in studying agricultural landscapes is understanding how water is moving both across the surface and in the subsurface.  In the mid-west, tile drains are a ubiquitous part of the environment, but the density of these tile drains in addition to how they are connected to the surface-water network, is key to interpreting how conservation management can help improve water quality in areas like the Great Lakes.  We flew this edge of field site and were able to show the tile-drain network in addition to helping to located broken tile drains.


Shawn Meyer flying a Unmanned Aircraft System
USGS Hydrologic technician, Shawn Meyer, preparing the UAS for a flight on the Kentucky River, KY






Remote data collection along the Kentucky River 

The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Water Science Center acquired two quadcopters in Fall 2016 with the goal of integrating Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) into our hydrologic investigations and data collection.  Current research using UAS includes delineating tile-drain networks in agricultural landscapes, documenting wetland recovery, and identifying potential safety issues in dam structures.