Making sure California sand dunes stay healthy

sand dune monitoring wingtra

For most of us, sand dunes are mounds of dry earth featuring long grasses and bridges to get to the beach. For researchers, they’re quite a different thing.

“About 75 percent of the world’s megacities, with populations over 10 million, live along the coasts,” said Zach Hilgendorf, a researcher from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University. “Most of those cities are in temperate climates where sandy coasts are. The dunes act as your first line of defense against the pressures of rising seas and climate change.”

Twice a year since 2015, Hilgendorf and a research team have traveled from Arizona to California to monitor changes in the dunes. At first, they used a camera connected to a kite; then a multirotor. In April 2019, they started using WingtraOne.

As far as resolution goes, we flew at 60 m with the quadcopter. With Wingtra we fly at 100 m and get the same or better resolution. The final accuracy on our WingtraOne orthomosaics is 1.2 cm.

Zach Hilgendorf
Researcher from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University

“We study in Arizona. The northern California site is 18 hours away. Once we get up there we have to collect data fast, because it’s mid semester. We then come back and process it. WingtraOne has been such a boon to our ability to get that work done in a timely manner.”

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