UNCW’s Narcisa Pricope, UNC Charlotte Professor Collaborate to Use Tandem Drones to Map Coastal Changes

Thursday, December 06, 2018

UNCW associate professor of geography Narcisa Pricope leads a team that will use tandem drones to map the advancement of an invasive marsh reed species in coastal North Carolina. The project, which also involves a UNC Charlotte robotics professor and two graduate student researchers, will be funded by a $75,000 University of North Carolina System Inter-Institutional Planning Grant.

The reed, Phragmites australis, is problematic because it crowds out native plants. The researchers will produce high-resolution maps that show the spread of the invasive reed, which will enable regulatory agencies to focus on areas of rapid progression, Pricope said. 

“This will be one of the first high-resolution maps of these invasive species in New Hanover County and beyond,” she said. “By flying multiple drones in tandem and linking the data to satellite imagery, we should be able to show where the reed is expanding the fastest.”

Pricope and her graduate student, Britton Baxley ’19M, will fly the drones and map data collected. The project will depend on successfully incorporating an algorithm developed by Srinivas Akella of UNCC and his Ph.D. student that can program two or more quadrocopter drones to fly together. Linking two drones, or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to gather the same data sets enables researchers to map large areas under identical environmental conditions and improve accuracy. 

UNCW’s 2016-21 Strategic Plan emphasizes advancing research that has the potential to have a positive impact on the broader community. 

The team’s research received endorsements from the NC Department of Transportation and the NC Coastal Federation, and one of the UNC System’s goals is for researchers to use the planning funds to harness additional external funding.

Drones also can be used to gather data immediately after hurricanes and other storms to show real-time impacts of weather on the coastal environment. 

“Dr. Pricope has been an innovator in our department in the use of drone technology in her classes and research,” said Doug Gamble professor and chair of the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences. “We look forward to seeing the results of her research and how it may lead to applications that aid in mapping the North Carolina coastline.” 

-- Tricia Vance


Narcisa Pricope, right, and Britton Baxley '19M, left, with a drone that will map coastal changes.

UNCW associate professor of geography Narcisa Pricope (right) and her graduate student, Britton Baxley '19M will fly drones like the one in the photo to map the advancement of an invasive marsh reed.