College of Arts & Sciences

UNCW Professor Narcisa Pricope Receives Another NCDOT Research Contract

AUGUST 08, 2022

UNCW Professor Narcisa Pricope is the lead investigator on a newly awarded NCDOT research contract of more than $325,000 to use advanced Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology to conduct highly applied research across a spectrum of clear, colored or tannic, and cloudy or turbid waters of various depths. The contract award reflects UNCW’s unique position as a true leader in unmanned aerial systems (UAS) research and applications in the state.

Dr. Pricope has led prior research in UAS from a NCDOT research contract awarded to her in 2019 that utilized data collected from UAS, including a new LiDAR system, to improve project planning and the NCDOT Wetlands Prediction Model. “With this valuable expertise in working with UAS-collected topographic LiDAR, UNCW is uniquely qualified to continue to lead the development of frontier applied data collection, processing and implementation for NCDOT’s next generation of topo-bathymetric LiDAR integration,” said Pricope.

The relatively recent development in UAS-borne LiDAR technologies provides a multitude of planning guidance for bridges, drainage, ferry, flooding and stormwater management and other infrastructure. However, topographic LiDAR data collection are limited in water-covered, partially-inundated, or tidally-influenced zones, where LiDAR returns are often null. Obtaining depth measurements in these remote and often dangerous waters across the state takes time and adds significant risks. These gaps in data have the potential to adversely impact planning, modeling, mapping, and assessment. Topo-bathymetric LiDAR has the capability to fill these gaps and records three distinct surfaces – land, water and submerged land.

The project extends NCDOT’s LiDAR capabilities by adding topo-bathymetric LiDAR instruments to the array of UAS-borne sensors in NCDOT’s inventory. Bathymetric LiDAR offers significant capabilities to fill gaps and improve data collection for planning, monitoring, and inspections. The ability to incorporate water depths quickly and efficiently is suited to a wide range of planning needs, with significant cost reductions, as well as improvements to worker and public safety.

Tidal zones present challenges in data collection due to depth resolution constraints, making change detection in navigation channels and sandbars after hurricanes difficult. This is of particular importance and interest to port cities such as Wilmington, NC. The topo-bathymetric LiDAR will enable the first ever testing and data collection in blackwaters, which are abundant on the Atlantic Coastal Plain from Delaware through north Florida. This places the NCDOT and UNCW at the cutting-edge of bathymetric technologies in the eastern USA.

Dr. Pricope will collaborate with UNCW’s Dr. Lynn Leonard to test some of the capabilities of UNCW’s z-boat to validate the airborne bathmetry measurements. In addition, Pricope will work with Appalachian State University professor Dr. Ok-Youn Yu, Assistant Department Chair of the Department of Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment. He along with his team are sub-contractors and their focus for the project is to evaluate incorporating UAV technology in dam removal efforts and to monitor soil erosion in the Watauga River after removal of Ward’s Mill Dam. Together the two teams will provide evaluation case studies for topo-bathymetric LiDAR across a wide landscape from the mountains to the coast of NC.


- Mary Ellen Frizzell