Conservation in the Age of Climate Change: Why Scientists Are Banking on Drones for Tracking Coastal Climate Research

David Johnston with an eBee Sensefly drone. (Photo: Scott Taylor/Duke University Marine Laboratory)

By Mary Catherine O’Connor

Journalists like to lean on anecdotes to tell stories about climate change, but for climate scientists, data is everything. But data collection is seldom a quick or inexpensive task, especially when that data is best acquired via a bird’s eye view of, say, an undulating coastline or a vast expanse of ice.

Fortunately, drones (also known as unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs], or unmanned aerial systems [UASs]) can serve as robotic avian minions, filling niches for which the conventional methods of aerial data collection — like chartering planes or tapping into satellite data — are poorly suited.

Scientists have been using drones for decades, but as they become more affordable and portable, they’re proving critical to studying—and saving—our most vulnerable environments.

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