wales’ drones measure coastal erosion from global warming

Researchers in Wales are using a mix of tech assets including drones to monitor the erosion of the country’s coastline, which has accelerated from rising sea levels produced by global warming.

The project is located in the Vale of Glamorgan, a town to the west of Cardiff. Since 2019 it has played home to the Wales Coastal Monitoring Centre, which observes the evolving condition of the Welsh shoreline as increased erosion becomes a rising threat to residents of seaside locales. The unit, entirely funded by the government of Wales, has been relying on a blend of technological tools – including drones, lasers, and echo sounders – to collect data on the rate and types of erosion taking place as an upshot of global warming. That information is intended to allow public authorities to decide how and where spending on protective measures would best be directed.

Sensor-equipped drones have been deployed to fly mapping missions of coastal zones, using laser and LiDAR capacities to create models that can be compared to successive versions as observation continues. That has produced useful references to track the advance of erosion in Wales as global warming causes sea levels to rise, and extreme weather events to multiply. 

Aerial drones have shown some limits in helping the Wales Coastal Monitoring Centre keep detailed tabs on global warming-fueled erosion, however – due in part, ironically, to the massive volume of information they collect.

“This type of data provides incredibly large datasets requiring intensive processing, the average computer is not able to process this data and there are limited options to prevent time-consuming, power-hungry processing,” its site notes.

As a result, the organization’s geeks are working to transfer the technology to a beach rover – and perhaps hovercraft or other maritime options – to function as automated data collection vehicles capable of operating in all sorts of weather and light conditions. Manual research and observation, meanwhile, is conducted on electric three-wheeled vehicles instead of quads to reduce emissions – the driver of the problem to begin with.

Officials know that failure of global governments to take measures to reverse carbon-fueled global warming means further erosion of Wales’ coast isn’t a question of if, but rather where and how fast. The drones and other measuring tech, it is hoped, will allow them to gauge where shorelines are being lost fastest, and take protective measures to slow that down – or evacuate communities from places they won’t be able to stop the sea from eventually reclaiming.

“The sea level is going to continue to rise, and it’s not going to stop, so we have to make a decision as to if it’s economically viable to continue to protect properties, or do we look to other means like adaptation techniques,” Wales Coastal Monitoring Centre program manager told the regional Barry & District News. “We’re collecting data which will help inform all local authorities and risk management authorities in Wales to make decisions about protecting against flooding and coastal erosion.” 

Photo: Wales Coastal Monitoring Centre


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