US: A UAV developed by United States’ Wake Forest University’s Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability, has gathered data depicting the extent of coal ash contaminants leaked into a North Carolina river from a Duke Energy coal ash dump. Wake Forest biology Professor, Miles Silman and a team of researchers used images from the UAV to build a 3D model of the coal ash pond spill site. Researchers estimated that 16 to 20 million gallons of ash and water spilled out of the pond on the day of the spill, with 15 million gallons released following the days after the spill.
“We want to be completely transparent in this. Our goal is to help stakeholders deal with the spill and its consequences and show the technology as a cheap and cost-effective way to monitor the environment,” said Silman. Biology graduate student Max Messinger assisted Silman in creating the 3D model. They attached a camera to the UAV and flew over the ash pond taking pictures in a grid-like pattern. “The software uses multiple camera viewpoints to build the 3-D model, in much the same way that your brain infers 3-D structure using your two eyes. Once the 3-D model is constructed, you can then navigate through it as if you were there,” said Messinger. The researchers have released their findings to Duke Energy, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Resources, the Southern Environmental Law Center, the North Carolina River Keepers and the Dan River Basin Association. The project was funded by Wake Forest University’s Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability.