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UAVs for Science in Antarctica

P. Pina, G. Vieira

Remote sensing is a very powerful tool that has been used to identify, map and monitor Antarctic features and processes for nearly one century. Satellite remote sensing plays the main role for about the last five decades, as it is the only way to provide multitemporal views at continental scale. But the emergence of small consumer-grade unoccupied aerial vehicles (UAVs) over the past two decades has paved the way for data in unprecedented detail. This has been also verified by an increasing noticeable interest in Antarctica by the incorporation of UAVs in the field activities in diversified research topics. This paper presents a comprehensive review about the use of UAVs in scientific activities in Antarctica. It is based on the analysis of 190 scientific publications published in peer-reviewed journals and proceedings of conferences which are organised into six main application topics: Terrestrial, Ice and Snow, Fauna, Technology, Atmosphere and Others. The analysis encompasses a detailed overview of the activities, identifying advantages and difficulties, also evaluating future possibilities and challenges for expanding the use of UAV in the field activities. The relevance of using UAVs to support numerous and diverse scientific activities in Antarctica becomes very clear after analysing this set of scientific publications, as it is revolutionising the remote acquisition of new data with much higher detail, from inaccessible or difficult to access regions, in faster and cheaper ways. Many of the advances can be seen in the terrestrial areas (detailed 3D mapping; vegetation mapping, discrimination and health assessment; periglacial forms characterisation), ice and snow (more detailed topography, depth and features of ice-sheets, glaciers and sea-ice), fauna (counting penguins, seals and flying birds and detailed morphometrics) and in atmosphere studies (more detailed meteorological measurements and air-surface couplings). This review has also shown that despite the low environmental impact of UAV-based surveys, the increasing number of applications and use, may lead to impacts in the most sensitive Antarctic ecosystems. Hence, we call for an internationally coordinated effort to for planning and sharing UAV data in Antarctica, which would reduce environmental impacts, while extending research outcomes.

Antarctica; UAV; technology; terrestrial; ice and snow; fauna; atmosphere; legislation

Remote Sensing
Volume 14, Number 7
2022 April

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Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa Universidade do Porto Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia da Universidade de Coimbra
Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia COMPETE 2020 PORTUGAL 2020 União Europeia