The World Health Organization has called climate change the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.
When we speak about climate change, we are referring to both global warming and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns. Since the mid 1900’s, humans have had an unprecedented impact on the global scale of climate change.
Human activity over the last 100 years in energy production, agriculture, forestry, and manufacturing have been the largest drive of greenhouse gas emissions – the single largest driver of global warming. The resulting changes to climate from human activity include higher temperatures, more droughts, unpredictable weather, shrinking sea ice, and changing rain and show patterns – just to name a few.
Many of the impacts of climate change are already being felt across the world, as countries deal with changes or reductions in water resources, food security, and risks. to human health.
In addition to these well documented impacts to human health and well-being, climate change also continues to create new layers of complexity for industries. Disruptions to the safety and security of the supply chain could have equally damaging impacts to human health on a global scale, and intervention from businesses provides an avenue to address existing human health impacts discussed above.
As a result, organizations have already begun moving toward more sustainable initiatives in their operations. Initiatives that can reduce the impact on the environment without interrupting production, raising costs and prices, or disrupting the safety of the supply chain – all of which would only serve to further amplify the human impact of climate change.
As governments and organizations work toward solving climate change, technology like drones have a unique role to play in supporting adaptation and mitigation initiatives. From helping to reduce carbon footprint, to developing more sustainable operations, management, and mitigation – drone technology has a variety of applications to support climate change action.
In the below sections, we’ll discuss several of the key uses of drones to support ongoing climate change initiatives.
Asset Maintenance & Management
One key area where drone technology can support climate change initiatives is through operational activities like asset management and maintenance programs. Drones can both help address the operational issues climate change presents for asset management and support ongoing adaption and mitigation initiatives.
In terms of operational issues, climate change has already resulted in higher temperatures, more droughts, and unpredictable weather. These effects have led to an increase in the risk of severe damage to critical assets, as well as increased importance of operational maintenance programs.
For example, increases in the duration, frequency and severity of winter storms have had a measurable impact on the Power Industry. Transmission infrastructure is at a greater risk of being damaged by weather events, whereas in the past storms could be considered negligible threats to asset integrity with storms severe enough to cause serious damage being the exception.
Similarly, vegetation management programs have become increasingly important – since higher temperatures and less rainfall have increased the likelihood of wildfires that can result from a fault and encroaching vegetation.
In both cases, drone-based inspections provide a service that helps manage these concerns quickly and reliably with safe and cost-effective solutions.
Drone-based inspections provide a faster and more cost-effective method to visually inspect assets and transmission corridors to identify problem areas. This allows asset owners to respond to faults more quickly on critical assets, and more proactively manage ongoing maintenance programs.
A further benefit to the speed and reliability of drone-based inspections is the addition of AI inspection software that can help reduce post-inspection times resulting in further decreases in inspection durations.
In addition to helping manage the impacts of climate change, drone-based inspection programs also have a role in adaption and mitigation initiatives.
One common mitigation technique for greenhouse gasses is to implement programs or processes that reduce the production of emissions or increase fuel efficiency in transportation and logistics.
As current technology uses a lithium-based battery to power the drone, drones can provide a significant reduction in CO2 emissions. Traditionally, line maintenance operations require a crew to travel the transmission corridor via ground transport. By replacing these vehicles with drones, inspections are not only completed more quickly – they can provide a reduction in emissions and help support organizational GHG targets.
To learn more about how drones can support the power industry, visit our Power Industry page.
Fugitive Emissions Detection
Alongside CO2, Methane (CH4) is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. In addition, NASA has reported that over a 100-year timescale Methane traps heat 28 times more effectively than CO2 – making its recent rise a key concern in climate change management.
It is not surprising that as governments around the world have begun to realize the risks of methane emissions, policies to regulate the volume of emission, set emissions targets, and reduce future emissions have become increasingly prevalent.
A few weeks ago, our RPAS Operations manager Jared Seufert posted a blog about How taking to the sky can help solve fugitive emissions. In that blog, Jared covered the industry’s most heavily impacted by methane regulations and the technologies that we have in place to help support industry partners in managing and mitigating their regulatory risk.
Like the benefits provided by critical infrastructure inspections, drone-based methane inspections provide both a more efficient means of inspection over traditional methods, and a more climate friendly alternative for delivering those inspections. However, drone-based methane inspections also have the important ability to directly impact the measurement and management of emissions.
To learn more about fugitive emissions, check out our blog.
Land Use Management & Conservation
A third use of drones in climate change is to collect land-use and conservation data. Collection of this data helps to better understand the ongoing effects of climate change, and how best to use resources within the lens of environmental conservation.
Currently, tracking and evaluating the impact of environmental degradation from climate change and related impacts is a difficult task. Areas requiring monitoring are typically both large and potentially hazardous to survey – meaning that accessing them via terrestrial means is either undesirable or impossible.
With drone-based solutions, scientists can effectively monitor vegetation and land over large areas; creating large data sets that will help them to better understand how climate change is affecting some of the world’s most critical resources.
One area where land use planning and conservation are of particular concern is the forestry industry. Deforestation remains one of the top contributors to climate change, and while causes of deforestation differ around the world, it has meant that forests have become a strategically important resource in the fight against climate change. As a result, to protect both the environment and continued operations, the forestry industry is a strong supporter of responsible forest management and use.
Drones can be deployed to help support the identification of selective cutting areas, monitor to ensure sustainability standards are being upheld, and provide overall information on forest structure, composition, and growth. Collection of this data helps support the responsible use and management of the forestry industry to both maintain the industry’s economic importance as well as proactively manage climate change.
A final use of drone technology in support of climate change helps to address one of the major impacts that climate change is already having on the human environment globally – food security.
Agriculture is a climate dependant industry. Crop selection relies heavily on the suitability of a regional ecosystem – crops that will not thrive in a climate simply don’t make sense to plant. Climate change brings about change to climatic elements like precipitation, temperature, and sunlight which in turn disrupts regional ecosystems and hampers traditionally successful crops.
Drones are already being deployed to help support the agricultural industry in a wide variety of areas, with new drone technologies being explored and implemented at a rapid pace. From crop monitoring to maintain plant health, to field mapping for slope and elevation to identify optimal seeding processes, and collecting high resolution data on crop fertility to assess harvesting and fertilizing – drone technology can help farmers adapt to climate change and make faster, more informed decisions.