Drone flown over Carolina Shores to aid flood mitigation mapping

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

CAROLINA SHORES — It’s not every day a drone flies over the town, but it was just another day of data-gathering for a UNCW graduate student and technology pro.

UNCW graduate student Jeffrey Canaday and Dave Wells, computer/electronics technician with UNCW’s Center for Marine Science, came to town June 27 to launch a pricey, fixed-wing, high-tech eBee SenseFly drone being used in a collaborative effort with the town and a consultant for a Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) flood mitigation study.

Canaday and Wells worked with Landin Holland with Holland Consulting Planners of Wilmington to set up control points around the main Carolina Shores neighborhood before launching the drone, which under FAA rules can fly for an hour at a time and 400 feet above the terrain or buildings below.

“We’re using RTK (Real-Time Kinematic) and GPS points to help Carolina Shores solve a flooding issue,” said Canaday as the three converged briefly along Cleek Court to mark a control point.

“The drone’s going to give us high-accuracy resolution imagery and RGB true-color imagery of the satellite imagery you would see,” Canaday said. “It’s multi-spectral imagery, which will show us the vegetation health of the areas that we fly over and then a thermal sensor that’s going to show us essentially water saturation at surface levels, how much water is pooling right at the surface or just under the surface of the ground.”

Using these “three deliverables” together, he said it will help the town see localized flooding issues, “how we can better address them or if there is anything else in the town that engineers can do.”

Holland said it’s an expensive effort as well as a valuable one that’s being provided for the town through the collaboration.

In return, Canaday said he’ll get school credit out of it as he pursues his master’s degree in geoscience at UNCW. He said it also assists in the Greater Cape Fear area with “what UNCW is able to do with some of these drone technologies.”

Canaday just earned an undergraduate degree in anthropology and will start graduate studies this fall.

Holland noted the drone program is fairly new in its use to help solve flooding issues.

“Other students are trying to solve some coastal problems, agriculture and forestry issues,” he said.

Canaday said his master’s project will be focused on these technologies and archaeology.

“But hopefully, depending on how this goes, we’ll be helping them solve more problems,” he said.

If there’s a need, he said there will be more flights in the area “to look at more of this.”

Holland said if another storm were to come through and cause flooding of Hurricane Joaquin proportions akin to what happened in the town in 2015, he said they could look at “then versus now” differences.

“We’re doing this to see if there’s an issue, but it also could determine that the town is doing what is can do,” he said. “So if we’re confirming what is happening is the extent of what the town can do, that’s fine, too.”

He said there’s no guarantee, “but it will give better information, more accurate data, more extensive data for engineers, and we’re going to pass it on to North Carolina Emergency Management as well. It’s for everyone to look at what’s going on and make a determination what can be done and whether they’re headed down the right path.”

After marking control points, the $30,000 drone was launched to begin its hour-long work that afternoon.

Canaday is the licensed pilot and “both of us are drone-certified,” he said.

Holland added they were operating within the parameters of the FAA.

“We have to make sure we maintain visual contact with it while it’s in the air so we can see it flying,” he said.


Aero aid


Carolina Shores Town Administrator Jon Mendenhall said the town believes it’s highly beneficial to forge relationships with UNCW and be able to rely on its expertise with emerging technologies.

The project is being carried out with grant funds provided to the town through the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management relating to Hurricane Matthew, which blew through and damaged the region in October 2016. Holland Consulting Planners is facilitating the town-sponsored study and project.

Mendenhall said the flood study evolved out of discussions regarding drainage following Hurricane Matthew, as well as issues associated with Tropical Storm Joaquin in October 2015.

As for cost savings to the town through the effort, Mendenhall said technology using fixed-wing drone data is fairly new in a rapidly evolving marketplace.

“UNCW has been kind enough to provide these services and, therefore, the town would like to refrain from putting a price on the services rendered,” he said. “It is safe to say that without the university, this effort would not have been possible.”

He said there have been several setbacks attributed to both the weather and technology, but the hope is to have the drone flights completed by this Friday, July 20, with a draft of the flood study completed by mid to late August.

Holland later said the drone work may extend into next week.


Laura Lewis is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.