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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Mapping Coastal Change Using Unmanned Aerial Systems: A Pilot Study

Project Leader:
Project Investigators:
E. Robert Thieler
David Remsen


Beaches and marshes provide critical habitat for many species of concern, including the piping plover, a shorebird which is endangered in parts of its range and threatened in others. These coastal environments also support tourism and recreation, and provide important services such as protecting infrastructure from wave inundation. Extreme storms and sea-level rise can alter these habitats, with implications for the species and communities that rely on them.

This project seeks to test the utility of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) for mapping and monitoring changes in coastal ecosystems. UAS provide a low-cost, low-risk means of acquiring high-resolution data when compared to on-the-ground fieldwork or traditional above-ground surveying techniques. By monitoring coastal changes over time at a high level of detail, scientists can identify the specific events and processes that have the greatest influence on these landscapes, and at what time scale these changes occur. This information is meant to be used to inform models that predict the impacts of storms, sea-level rise, and other coastal hazards, ultimately contributing to landscape and species management decisions.