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Unmanned Aircraft System Measurement of Erosion Processes and Snow Water for Flood Prediction


With the technology advances in UAS systems, which includes sensors and platforms, it is of great interest to organizations that need to collect snow water data to fully exploit the unique capabilities of UAS. These organizations will benefit from the commercialization of research and technology development to enable UAS measurements of erosion processes and snow water for flood prediction and water management. Springtime flooding caused dramatic and expensive impacts in the US in 2019 throughout the eastern Great Plains and Midwest. Management of these impacts required significant data gathering and coordination between local, regional, and federal agencies. Spring flooding can be caused by a variety of mechanisms, but information about the winter snowpack is one of the greatest uncertainties. Erosion caused by high water, extreme events, and simply natural movement of waterways can occur during springtime as well as throughout the wet season. UAS applications have potential to provide valuable insight for this phenomenon for local, regional, and federal agencies. This project seeks to develop UAS sensors that can be used to measure snow water equivalent. Currently, the NWS National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center (NOHRSC) provides comprehensive snow observations, analyses, data sets and map products for the Nation ( The NOHRSC measures snow water equivalent and soil moisture using gamma radiation remote sensing. This unique observing system includes two low-flying aircraft to conduct surveys in 31 states, including Alaska, as well as in 8 Canadian provinces. These data are incorporated into the National Snow Analyses. Although some UAS sensors already exist that collect data on snowpack properties, little published research has demonstrated their technological readiness level or effectiveness for operations. Erosion from natural changes in river geomorphology as well as driven by floods can also have devastating impacts on communities and infrastructure. Projects that use UAS- borne remote sensing or a combination of remote-sensing and modeling to derive information on snowpack properties such as snow water equivalent are encouraged.
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