Land & Environment

USU's AggieAir to Improve Water Data Collection Methods

(photograph from the AggieAir website)

The Student Life section of Utah State Today highlights work written by the talented student journalists at Utah State University. Each week, the editor selects a story that has been published in The Utah Statesman or the Hard News Café or both for inclusion in Utah State Today.

USU’s AggieAir to Improve Water Data Collection Methods

From the Hard News Café Thursday, February 26, 2015

Improvements being made to the Utah Water Research Laboratory’s data collection methods are helping to better monitor water usage in Cache Valley this winter.

The Utah Water Research Laboratory is combining environmental information collected by AggieAir, an aerial surveying drone, with satellite data, said Alfonso Torres-Rua, a staff member and research engineer at the lab.

“It has helped us determine how much water is being used,” Torres-Rua said. “It has also helped us with growth water requirements.”

AggieAir is a small, unmanned aircraft equipped with three different types of cameras and a GPS system. The aircraft follows a predetermined flight path and takes a picture every tenth of a second. Each picture taken sends data to the command center on the ground.

The information collected by the drone is then combined with satellite data for a more complete report.

“The cameras are more specialized, which allows you to see what human eyes cannot see when the research comes in,” Torres-Rua said. “You have the normal camera, the near-infrared camera to help you see the health of the crops and soil moisture, and the thermal camera to help you see where water is needed to apply irrigation.”

AggieAir has been and will continue to benefit Cache Valley, said Ian Gowing, a research engineer at the laboratory.

“Through AggieAir, we can minimize water use,” Torres-Rua said.

“It is becoming much more important with the lack of water nowadays,” Gowing said.

The images from AggieAir allow the researchers to determine where different quantities of water are needed to save as much water as possible for the city, Torres-Rua said.

“We are working on developing a way to get more data online so farmers can better use the information,” Torres-Rua said.

Torres-Rua also said the data is used to build a map that benefits crop fields around Cache Valley.

“AggieAir provides a push for farmers to use water in a more efficient way,” Torres-Rua said.

More information on AggieAir can be found at aggieair.usu.edu

Shelby Ruud, Kristen Steiner, Thomas Sorenson, Parker Atkinson and Ethan Trunnell contributed to this report.

-mdl

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