Drones and Geology

March 7 Taking-off! Drones for Environmental and Natural Resources”.
Presented by Donna M Delparte, Idaho State University. Video

The dramatically expanding use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) will radically change the way scientists and professionals collect data and make new discoveries. As federal regulations (FAA) work towards the safe integration of UAS into the national airspace and UAS become less expensive and easy to use, drones will “take-off” as a new tool for researchers and professionals. This presentation will highlight new FAA regulations in place for drone operations, the workflow for how simple and inexpensive drones can be used for scientific data collection and discovery and the diversity of creative ways that drones are being used to solve problems by the research community. Specific examples of three research projects underway at Idaho State University using drones will be covered in this talk. These topic areas include:

  1. Geology. The potential of using UAS for a variety of applications in the geosciences is enormous – especially in areas that are hazardous to access. ISU is currently using drones for mapping lava fields for variations in texture and complexity. Further ISU is planning to use UAS this spring for mapping a potential extension of the Borah fault northwest of Challis, ID.


  1. Agriculture. The use of drones for agriculture is anticipated to grow into a billion dollar industry. Already drones have been commonly used for assessment of crop health. ISU has been working to further this technology by utilizing cutting-edge hyperspectral sensors to detect individual sick plants in a field that have been infected with a virus where the plant exhibits no symptoms that are detectable to the human eye, but are detected by our drones.


  1. Wildlife Conservation. In partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, ISU has been working to use UAS to assist with species reintroduction. In north central Montana, the highly endangered native black footed ferret is being reintroduced to a prairie dog colony. Prairie dogs are the ferrets natural prey species and the health and population of the colony is of importance to reintroduction efforts. Over 1900 acres of prairie dog colony were flown with a UAS and by using computer technology we can detect and count burrows to determine the health and growth of the colony.