Project Description

This research project aimed to:

  • Assess the applicability of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones for open lake water sampling,
  • Evaluate whether water samples and physico-chemical data collected using drones satisfies the European Union (EU) Water Framework Directive (WFD) objectives for monitored lakes in Ireland, and
  • Examine whether drones can offer a quicker, cost effective, less labour intensive and safer lake sampling protocol as part of the EPA WFD Lake Monitoring programme.

The EPA’s Research Programme 2014-2020 is designed to identify pressures, inform policy and develop solutions to environmental challenges through the provision of strong evidence-based scientific knowledge.

There is now a need to streamline the efficiency of biological and physico-chemical samples taken from monitored lakes and gather data to strengthen the ecological understanding and status of unmonitored lakes. These efforts will provide a greater understanding of the ecological status of Irish lakes and ensure better compliance, by Ireland, with the WFD.

Identifying Pressures

Pressures associated with large-scale lake surface water sampling and monitoring, as requirements under the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) and, administered by the EPA Lakes Monitoring team include:

  • Need for trained personnel,
  • Expensive to run,
  • Time consuming,
  • Resource intensive e.g use of boat,
  • Pose health & safety and bio-security risks, and
  • Some lakes have limited accessibility for sampling using a boat.

Inform Policy

This research informed water sampling monitoring protocols for use under the EU WFD and provided knowledge and understanding of the considerations needed to implement drone water sampling technology into the current EPA Lake Monitoring Programme (EU WFD & Habitats Directives).

Develop Solutions

The project team are the first research team in Ireland and Europe to capture a 2 litre water sample using a drone. This research has made several significant contributions towards the advancement and application of drone water sampling methods including

  • Successful deployment of a drone and attached payload.
  • Capable of capturing a 2 litre water sample and real-time physico-chemical data.
  • Deplument was 100 metres offshore on open lakes.
  • Water sampling times using the drone were 4 minutes.
  • Water volume capture rates were 100 percent.
  • Drone water sampling was 2.3 – 3.4 times faster than boat sampling methods, depending on resource allocation.
  • Capital investment costs for boat sampling were 1.2 – 1.5 times cheaper than drone water sampling.
  • Drone water sampling reduced the health and safety and biosecurity risks associated with boat sampling.