Development of a UAV based topographic sensor for monitoring dynamic coastal environments

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Sch of Geography & Environmental Sci


Despite the importance placed upon our coastal environments in terms of providing inland protection from marine flooding and the habitat and economic value associated with them, due to high costs, repeat monitoring is largely limited to annual timescales. Yet the implications for managing the coastal sediment resource are such that accurate, high spatio-temporal resolution data is essential to underpin the geomorphological understanding driving maintenance decisions. The regular delivery of high resolution topographic data will transform our current understanding of large scale beach dynamics, by providing the very first ~daily measurements of high the sediment is moving around.

In conjunction with our CASE partner, Pevensey Coastal Defence Ltd (see CASE partner section), this project will develop a novel, small form factor, mobile laser scanning sensor (MLS) which will be integrated into an UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). The sensor and platform will be able to collect suitably high resolution (high vertical accuracy and 100s points per m2) data along the Pevensey coast in a matter of hours, improving the understanding of sediment dynamics. On board image processing will enable the development of feature (e.g. shingle spits) tracking in an effort to develop 'smart' systems which can monitor dynamic environmental features.

As well as the immediate impact of this research for monitoring large areas of dynamic land forms, it will be of great interest to those developing sense and avoid systems for full autonomous flights and in further refinement of smart feature tracking.

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/N012070/1 30/09/2016 31/10/2023
1937474 Studentship NE/N012070/1 30/09/2017 30/08/2021
NE/W503150/1 31/03/2021 30/03/2022
1937474 Studentship NE/W503150/1 30/09/2017 30/08/2021
Description UAV surveying for mire restoration in The New Forest, England. 
Organisation Forestry Commission
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We are undertaking ongoing deployment of our UAV based multispectral imaging and laser scanning system which is being used to monitor the mire topography and vegetation health, as well as providing potential to evaluate soil moisture levels across the mire.
Collaborator Contribution Provision of a location and site knowledge, as well as steering on ideas and outcomes that they would like to see from this work. Access and permissions ot be able to fly at the site which is restricted and protected by various laws were granted and assisted by The Forestry Commission along with Natural England.
Impact Ongoing work so no outputs as of yet, multidisciplinary across geomorphology, ecology, and hydrology.
Start Year 2019
Description Working with Natural Resource Wales on UAV workshops 
Organisation Natural Resources Wales
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Attendance of interdisciplinary workshops to contribute to discussions on the use of UAVs in the environmental research sector and the best practice guidelines that we all use.
Collaborator Contribution Organisation of workshops and ongoing communication with participants to keep updated on UAV laws and best practice.
Impact Interaction with other stakeholders, online distribution of workshop outcomes and presentations.
Start Year 2019