Mike Rawich

July 31, 2023

5 ways drone imagery can protect your land and your assets

Galago, can create an up-to-date digital map of an entire environmental remediation site. Using satellite and drone imagery, the Galago platform takes an inventory of an entire site, digitise it into a 3D topographic map, and characterise vegetation coverage by density, distribution, and habitat type. This provides a site owner with a baseline from which they can monitor their land going forward.

In the US there are over 40,000 environmental remediation sites (also referred to as legacy land sites or contaminated sites) that are being cleaned, restored, and redeveloped.
These sites - which may have been damaged by previous industrial activity, or chemicals and pesticides - can be harmful to both human and environmental health. This is why it’s so important to monitor them.
While active sites are generally well monitored, monitoring protocols can vary when a site is closed and no longer profitable. Often, the more time that passes since its closure, the less one knows about the previous activities that took place on a site.
Where are the mine shafts? Do re-filled open pits or dumping sites exist? Where are the underground cavities?
Over time sinkholes may appear, subsidence may occur, and the quality and quantity of groundwater may alter. All of this is why it’s crucial for landowners to thoroughly monitor their site so they can protect it, themselves, and the environment.
But there’s a problem…
Traditionally, people have monitored the development of an environmental site by walking around it to carry out manually intensive on-the-ground inspections.
While this may have given them a snapshot of what’s happening, more remote areas are missed as they are too difficult to access. It also puts a lot of pressure on the human eye which is likely to miss how a site changes over time, and can put employees in harm’s way.
In contrast, drones unlock a large amount of additional information relevant to environmental investigations.
A number of environmental site managers are turning to drones to give them the aerial intelligence they need to protect their land and their assets.
Drones are ideal for site mapping
Drones can cover more land in a shorter window of time than any individual could, all while collecting important digital data. What’s more, recent technological developments from aerial imagery companies have made drones safer, cheaper, and more reliable.
In short, drones are able to:
  • Make monitoring safer by removing the need for people to carry out inspections of dangerous areas
  • Run more regular environmental remediation site inspections and collect vast amounts of useful data
  • Give you broader and more thorough visibility over your site
This is partly because drone technology can produce:
  • Orthomosaic images (i.e. combining the individual images captured by sensors into one geometrically corrected image)
  • Topographic and contour maps
  • 3D point clouds
  • 3D models
  • Digital elevation models
  • Digital surface models
  • Surface flow models
And, if you use data analysis products on drone imagery, you can perform:
  • Elevation and slope analysis
  • Volume determination for stockpiles and structures
  • Hydrologic analysis
  • Structural identification (e.g., adit or other mine structures)
  • Vegetation analysis
Before we go on…
We should caveat by saying that drones aren’t perfect. Getting the right drone / aerial imagery requires expertise in the technology, and knowing how to use the imagery when you have it requires data science or big data experience.
If you can give drone imagery to a team of Environmental Data Scientists who understand environmental regulators and rules, you can really unlock its potential.
Drones - and the imagery produced by them - don’t provide the complete data solution for those monitoring legacy land sites. However, up-to-date drone imagery does offer a lot, and below we’ve outlined five ways it can help you protect your land and your assets…
1. You can accurately deduce vegetation parameters with drone imagery
Using processed aerial imagery from across an entire site, you can spot vegetation health, detect diseases, and manage invasive species. Drone imagery gives you a clear view of the percentage of vegetation coverage, the plant communities that exist, and also allows for invasive species identification.
In seeing signs of vegetation contamination, erosion, and hydrologic issues, you can spot where, and how your contaminated site is deteriorating. This helps you ensure your restoration process is running smoothly.
2. Up-to-date aerial imagery tracks all your land’s surface features over time in days, not months
When you combine imagery with the right analytics platform, you’re able to identify the fastest deteriorating areas on a contaminated site. How are excavations proceeding? Where is erosion taking place?
Once you’ve seen this information you can fix issues before they become costly disasters, and even automate reporting functions.
Knowing whether the site you manage is stable and safe gives you peace of mind. It can prevent future restoration costs, make your relationships with regulatory agencies stronger, and give you concrete evidence to defend against any potential future litigation challenges.
3. Automatically identify and measure dangerous, hazardous and hidden objects
As mentioned above, just because you manage the legacy land site now, it doesn’t mean you know everything that happened on it many years ago. Nor does it mean you’ve ever been able to get sight over what could be many hundreds of acres of land.
There may be a 55-gallon drum of chemicals still hidden away from view (if that sounds implausible, believe us it’s not, we’ve seen and heard examples of it!).
Having an aerial intelligence to what’s going on across your site allows you to quickly and accurately understand the magnitude and extent of liabilities.
4. You can automate decisions around equipment access
Drone imagery can help environmental remediation site owners highlight where there are slope instabilities and collapses, as well as where subsidence, or an uplift of the ground surface, has occurred.
Armed with this knowledge you’re then able to better optimize field efforts when it comes to controlling rights of way and deploying equipment. This drastically reduces the amount of ‘stop’ and ‘start’ time contractors or your team will face.
When you manage a site you want to do it well, but you also want to do it efficiently. Aerial imagery means you don’t have to sacrifice one of those two things.
5. You can automate management decisions
Once you see a complete view of your land from drone-height, you get a much better sense of where to place vegetation types, or where you need to manage water quality.
Subtle but crucial land changes are hard to identify and often picked up too late - especially when monitoring a hazardous site at ground level. Combined with an effective data analysis solution, drone imagery can remove subjective errors and show you previously unseen insights from above.
The images allow you to make data-driven decisions - rather than rely exclusively on manual interpretations - so you can target resources efficiently and make more accurate site-wide decisions.
Where a monitoring platform comes in…
The big caveat to all of the above is that drone imagery is just one part of the solution. Because it gives so much data, you need a platform that can take the imagery and instantly recognize, and identify, what we’ve been talking about above (for example soil coverage or the species type and distribution volume of vegetation).
This is the platform we’ve built at Galago, where we can create an up-to-date digital map of a whole environmental remediation site.
Using satellite and drone imagery we take an inventory of an entire site, digitize it into a 3D topographic map, and characterize vegetation coverage by density, distribution and habitat type. This provides a site owner with a baseline from which they can monitor their land going forward.
We are tech agnostic. So while our platform can analyze drone imagery a site owner or a third party provides, we also have our own drone capabilities to capture the imagery needed. Like any monitoring tool, one of the only things we require is good data.
Fortunately, having been born out of Ramboll - a top 10 global environmental engineering firm - we have a nationwide network of highly-trained drone pilots with OSHA and MSHA certifications to help us collect said data. Our algorithms, which are based on years of data sets, can then review imagery and make management recommendations that are accurate and extensive.
What’s more, we know what we’re looking for. As sector specialists with over 30 years of experience as Environment Consultancy Experts, we’ve encountered and dealt with nearly all the problems a landowner faces today.
The result is that anyone managing a land asset can use the Galago platform to get a complete report which shows if, where, and how their land is deteriorating, and get recommendations for what to do next. They’ll also get alerted to any new issues as soon as they arise on their site.
A final word…
By themselves, drone images of your environmental remediation site are just pretty pictures. However, when analyzed by a monitoring platform and team that knows what it’s looking for, you can turn those pictures into actionable and measurable insights that form the basis for good decision making. Decision making that helps you protect your land and your assets.

What to find out more about Galago’s comprehensive new monitoring platform?

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