Drone research focuses on coastal zones
  • Wednesday 10 August 2016
Javier Leon

From the air to the sea, Mooloolaba and Maroochydore beaches are this week in the sights of University of the Sunshine Coast researchers working in collaboration with Sunshine Coast Council on a project to map the ocean floor to improve coastal zone management.

Lecturer in Physical Geography Dr Javier Leon, who coordinates USC’s Environmental Science degree, is leading the project which includes USC Honours student Ashley Rummell, officers from council and Griffith University.

A small quad-copter drone has been flown over both beaches to take aerial photos of wave movements, each along a 1km stretch of sand, from the shore out to a water depth of 13 metres.

The project, ‘Monitoring surf zone bathymetry (underwater topography) using coastal imaging systems’, is part of a Collaborative Research Grants Scheme launched in April by council and USC to support innovative projects to shape the region’s future.

Dr Leon said the project would measure wave movements over 18-minute intervals via three methods: analysing images streamed from an unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) hovering above the waves; analysing photos taken from fixed surf cameras on beach towers; and using depth echo sounders from jet skis on the water.

“We’ll then compare these three methods for cost-effectiveness and accuracy to determine which to recommend to the council,” he said.

“This has never been done in Australia so we’re excited to see the results, which aim to help with future monitoring and management of issues such as sand bars and gutters, beach replenishment, dredging and erosion.”

Photo: USC lecturer in Physical Geography Dr Javier Leon