What does the USGS do with the information, pictures, and video collected by unmanned aircraft systems?

All data collected by USGS unmanned aircraft systems are processed and used in support of mission-specific research objectives. The vast majority of the resource management and scientific data will be archived for long-term use and placed in the public domain.

Learn more: National Unmanned Aircraft Systems Project Office

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Does the USGS need flight approval to operate unmanned aircraft systems?

Yes, approval is required for operating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The USGS receives flight approval from the Federal Aviation Administration prior to every UAS mission. The official document is referred to as a Certificate of Authorization and Waiver. It is the approval process by which the Federal Aviation Administration allows for public...

What restrictions are in place to protect citizens' civil liberties and privacy concerns related to unmanned aircraft systems?

The USGS is a bureau within the Department of the Interior (DOI), which requires the following actions related to privacy: Operating Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) primarily over DOI lands. Obtaining written permission from landowners when UAS operations need to launch and/or land on their property. Following standard Federal Aviation...

What training do pilots of USGS unmanned aircraft systems receive?

Training for USGS Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) operators is provided by the Department of the Interior Office of Aviation Services . The training has been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and is specific to the types of UAS that the department operates. The training provides operators with the skills and knowledge necessary to...

Why does the USGS use unmanned aircraft systems?

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) provide an affordable solution when the USGS needs "eyes in the sky" but doesn’t have the budget to maintain a fleet of aircraft or to obtain commercial imagery. The USGS relies on a variety of remotely sensed data. UAS can provide a range of remote sensing data types, from aerial images to hyperspectral or...

What types of unmanned aircraft systems does the USGS use?

The Department of the Interior (and USGS) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) operational strategy emphasizes small systems with a combined aircraft and payload weight of less than 55 pounds. These small UAS are designed to support short (90 minute) missions and operate on rechargeable batteries or gasoline. This strategy recognizes that any given...

How does the USGS use unmanned aircraft systems?

The USGS Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Project Office and the Office of Aviation Services are leading the development and testing of UAS scientific and resource management technology across the Department of the Interior in coordination with the other bureaus. Department of the Interior UAS capabilities support a range of activities including...

Will I be able to see my house in an aerial photograph? Will enlarging the image let me see more detail?

The ability to see specific items in an aerial image is mostly a function of scale and resolution. The following aerial photography products all have a resolution of 1 meter or better, so you should be able to see an object the size of a house: High Resolution Orthoimagery (HRO) National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) imagery Digital...
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Date published: July 3, 2019

Drones on Ice: Scientists Take to the Air to Study Suicide Basin

Juneau Empire recently posted an article about the work of measuring water and ice levels in Alaska's Suicide Basin using drones that University of Alaska researchers have been doing with help from the Alaska CASC. 

Date published: May 13, 2019

A Tale of Two Drones

Unmanned Aircraft Used to “Sniff” Methane Gas Escaping from Thawing Permafrost

Date published: May 13, 2019

2019 USGS Unmanned Aircraft Systems Aquatic Airshow

A USGS Unmanned Aircraft Systems Aquatic Airshow field testing and demonstration event occurred 4/30/2019 - 5/2/2019 on the Saco River near Biddeford, and the Androscoggin River near Lewiston in Maine, USA.

Date published: November 6, 2017

Video shot from drones yields details about changing landslide on California’s Big Sur coast

On October 12, 2017, USGS unmanned aerial systems collected video footage of the Mud Creek landslide, which buried California State Highway 1 under a third-of-a-mile-wide mass of rock and dirt on May 20, 2017.

Date published: November 6, 2017

Video shot from drones yields details about changing landslide on California’s Big Sur coast

On October 12, 2017, USGS unmanned aerial systems collected video footage of the Mud Creek landslide, which buried California State Highway 1 under a third-of-a-mile-wide mass of rock and dirt on May 20, 2017.

Date published: May 24, 2017

Igniting a New Trend in Public Safety

U.S. Geological Survey scientists and partners are taking technology to the next level, using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly called drones, to acquire both fire intensity and emissions data during prescribed burns.

Date published: March 16, 2017

Flagstaff Scientists Look to Drones

The Arizona Daily Sun published a piece about the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) by USGS researchers in Flagstaff.

Date published: July 31, 2016

Hot off the Press! Great Balls of Fire!

The USGS Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit in partnership with the Nebraska Intelligent MoBile Unmanned Systems Lab (NIMBUS) and the Applied Complex Adaptive Systems Lab have designed a drone prototype that drops balls filled with combustible material that ignites fire as part of prescribed fire management.

Date published: June 1, 2014

Cranes and Drones: Strange Airfellows?

When U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) biologist Leanne Hanson answered a “call” in 2009 for interested USGS scientists to learn to operate drones, she knew it would be uplifting work—literally. Recently, as a newly trained and certified pilot, she spent a week flight-testing a small unmanned aircraft system, also called an sUAS1 or simply a drone, as a non-invasive means of conducting aerial...

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USGS Tests Prototype Ground Penetrating Radar Drone
May 1, 2019

USGS Tests Prototype Ground Penetrating Radar Drone

The USGS, in cooperative research and development with GuidelineGEO, tested an 80 GHz self contained ground penetrating radar unit on a DJI Matrice 600 hexcopter (left). This platform was tested for flight performance and for measurement of river channel cross-sectional area as well as river water depth and river width. (Right)

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Attribution: Water Resources
Two drones hover in observation
April 15, 2019

Two drones hover in observation

Two drones hover in observation above the Columbia Environmental Research Center ponds. The drones were each equipped with advances remote sensing platforms to detect experimental conditions.

March 27, 2019

Testing New Drone Technology to Measure Floodwaters

A USGS crew used new drone technology to test and evaluate new technology to measure water speed from the air without touching the water. This drone footage was taken on the Missouri River at Hermann, Missouri on March 27, 2019. Scientists compared these new method results to the conventional way of taking measurements from a boat. 

This work is a part of a national

December 31, 2018

Hovering Above—UAS’ Role in the 2018 Kīlauea Volcano Eruption (AD)

The 2018 Kīlauea Volcano eruption marked the first time the federal government used Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to assist in an eruption response in the United States. The UAS were used to survey areas otherwise inaccessible or too hazardous for field crews or manned aircraft, collect multiple types of data, and provide 24/7 real-time situational awareness at Kīlauea

October 31, 2018

Drone Footage of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area after Carr Fire

Drone footage of Whiskeytown National Recreation area in Northern California in October 2018, captured by drone pilot and USGS WERC ecologist Chase Freeman.

USGS WERC is using drone imagery to understand how the 2018 Carr Fire affected ecosystems and cultural resources. The study, a collaboration with the National Park Service (NPS), focuses on Whiskeytown National

Drone shot looking at brightly colored red and orange lava flows
July 2, 2018

Kīlauea Volcano — Drone Over Lava Channel

USGS Mavic Pro drone image of the fissure 8 lava channel looking toward the vent. Overflows can be seen as incandescent spots beyond the channel margins. Drone flights and resultant imagery help scientists

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Matrice 600 PRO at Kilauea Volcano
June 20, 2018

Matrice 600 PRO at Kilauea Volcano

Matrice 600 PRO at Kilauea Volcano

3DR Solo quadcopter is collecting imagery at Chimney Bluffs State Park in NY
April 13, 2018

3DR Solo quadcopter collecting imagery

A 3DR Solo quadcopter is collecting imagery at Chimney Bluffs State Park in NY. Using photogrammetric techniques, a 3D surface model was created providing elevation data. 

Todd Burton (USGS NUPO) preparing the Pulse Vapor 55
October 17, 2017

Todd Burton (USGS NUPO) preparing the Pulse Vapor 55

Todd Burton (USGS NUPO) preparing the Pulse Vapor 55