2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 11
Presentation Time: 4:15 PM


HELMKE, Martin F., Department of Geology and Astronomy, West Chester University, 750 South Church Street, West Chester, PA 19383 and ROTH, Andrew M., Department of Geology, Dickinson College, College and Louther Streets, Carlisle, PA 17013, helmkem@dickinson.edu

The emergence of digital photography provides a unique opportunity for students to collect and view their own aerial images in near real-time using unoccupied aerial vehicles (UAVs). These images allow students to visualize geomorphology, view environmental sites, or document geologic hazards such as floods or landslides. Once students identify a geologic feature of interest in their aerial images, they may a) explore the feature on foot, or b) collect additional aerial images of the feature from new altitudes or perspectives. In this fashion, the collection of aerial images becomes an engaging, interactive learning opportunity.

To make this project possible, a 4 MPixel digital camera was placed into a foam-filled, plastic container to reduce vibration and protect the camera from debris and hard landings. The camera was triggered by a servo controlled with an FM radio transmitter and receiver. This stand-alone pod was suspended from a variety of platforms, including poles, kites, balloons, radio-controlled aircraft, and zip-lines. Students used these platforms to collect aerial images of landfills, meandering streams, fracture traces, sinkholes, and landslides in Pennsylvania.

Students successfully captured crisp, high-resolution (2 to 20 cm) images that were viewed in the field using a laptop computer. Students reported the kite to be the most effective camera platform, although those with sufficient experience enjoyed the thrill of flying radio-controlled aircraft. Selected images were digitally orthorectified, and were used by students to produce maps or were imported into a GIS after returning from the field. Stereo images were converted into anaglyphs, allowing students to view geomorphic features with 3-D movie glasses.

Students could view themselves in the aerial images, which helped them appreciate the scale of geologic features in a highly tangible way. Some students were frustrated by the difficulty of positioning the camera in windy conditions or tree-covered areas. Nonetheless, students enjoyed using interactive aerial imagery as an exploration tool, and reported this to be one of their favorite exercises.