National Science Foundation Funds UAS Work on Hurricane Response

To help scientists understand how disasters such as Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Harvey happen and how we can best respond, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded 59 new grants totaling $5.3 million to various projects, including an initiative involving unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Robin Murphy of Texas A&M University and David Merrick of Florida State University are leading a hurricane response project that uses drones. The scientists are collecting data from UAS flights over hurricane-affected locations – 119 flights at Hurricane Harvey sites and 247 flights at Hurricane Irma sites.

The UAVs are being deployed in Fort Bend County, Texas, and Putnam and Collier counties, Florida, to support disaster response efforts. The project involves a range of UAS platforms flying at various altitudes and for different missions, says NSF. Video, still imagery and photogrammetry are part of the project, which involves flights before the hurricanes, during response phases and through restoration phases.

“NSF-funded scientists have a long history of advancing our understanding of large-scale disasters and their aftermath,” says France Córdova, director of NSF. “These researchers have increased our ability to predict the paths of tropical cyclones, found ways of improving flood water decontamination and enhanced our understanding of the mechanisms that may cause levee failures. NSF’s new awards will result in similar advances critically needed in the face of such disasters.”

Other subjects NSF grantees are focusing on include whether mangroves provide better coastal protection than salt marshes; how Texas barrier islands responded to and will recover from Harvey; and whether liquid mercury released into the floodplain sediments of the San Jacinto River in Texas poses a threat to public health. The awards are largely related to hurricanes Harvey and Irma; NSF also expects to support studies related to Hurricane Maria.

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