USGS researchers in the Water Resources Mission Area are partnering with NASA and the University of Southern California (USC) to measure stream surface velocity using a spectrum of sensors and edge-computing tools carried on Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (UAS). Scientists are pursuing the use of optical and thermal Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) to map surface streamflow velocity autonomously with NASA’s Intelligent Systems Division. Timely, reliable information on streamflow is critical for water supply, flood risk mitigation, ecosystem conservation, and recreation. Effective management of the Nation’s rivers thus relies upon discharge data provided by USGS streamgages, but the gage network data may be limited. In addition, data collection during high flows can place personnel at risk. For these reasons, the agency seeks to develop innovative, non-contact methods for measuring river discharge. Motivated by this objective, a research group composed of USGS and NASA scientists is working toward a new system for inferring surface flow velocities via PIV of thermal video acquired from a small UAS (sUAS). Ongoing efforts focus on deriving velocity information in real-time via embedded, onboard computing and facilitating quality control by quantifying the uncertainty associated with surface velocity estimates.
Small Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (sUAS) including rotorcraft and Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) payload for mapping surface streamflow velocity.