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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Columbus, Ohio » Soil Drainage Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #355014

Research Project: Agricultural Water Management in Poorly Drained Midwestern Agroecosystems

Location: Soil Drainage Research

Title: Using drones to find drainage pipes

item Allred, Barry
item ROUSE, GREG - Ross County Soil & Water Conservation District

Submitted to: Ohio Country Journal
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/1/2018
Publication Date: 7/15/2018
Citation: Allred, B.J., Rouse, G. 2018. Using drones to find drainage pipes. Ohio Country Journal. 26(20):27,29.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Drones capable of obtaining thermal infrared imagery may have the capacity for effective and efficient drainage pipe mapping. Differences in soil moisture directly over a drain line versus between drain lines lead to differences in the emitted heat energy directly over a drain line versus between drain lines. These differences in the emitted heat energy can be detected with thermal infrared cameras, thereby providing indications of drainage pipe locations. Drones allow the flexibility of obtaining thermal infrared imagery when field conditions are favorable for mapping drain lines. Scientists from the USDA / Agricultural Research Service – Soil Drainage Research Unit (USDA/ARS-SDRU) and the Ross County (Ohio) Soil and Water Conservation District (RCSWCD) have initiated a study using a drone with a thermal infrared camera to map subsurface drainage in agricultural settings. Although the study has just begun, initial results appear promising based on the first field surveyed. In this particular field, thermal infrared imagery was collected on May 14, 2018, and the thermal infrared orthomosaic (generated by stitching together a large number of individual thermal infrared photos to produce a single image) clearly showed the drainage pipe pattern that was present in the field. Even with thermal infrared drainage pipe mapping proving to be successful on this first field, further research is definitely warranted. USDA/ARS-SDRU and RCSWCD scientists plan to conduct further thermal infrared drones surveys in Ross County, Ohio at a number of different field sites having different soil types, crop residue, and tillage practices. Additionally, at each site, thermal infrared drone surveys will be carried out under a range of field wetness levels. The project goal will be to develop guidelines as to when and where thermal infrared drone surveys can be employed to map agricultural subsurface drainage systems.