Arctic Research with UAVs


Scientists in Alaska are exploring new research approaches using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Flying technological tools map sea ice terrain in the Chukchi Sea and spot sea otters’ prey in Kachemak Bay. Explore this groundbreaking science in new videos ‘Mapping Ice Trails By UAV’ and ‘UAV Over Otters’ at

On #ArcticMatters Day, visitors to the Frontier Scientists table were able to try out our in-development mobile game app, Arctic UAVs. The game’s challenges are abstractly based on real research missions executed by the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration ACUASI program and the Geophysical Institute at University Alaska Fairbanks. The game links to real UAV science online. Game players try their hand at guiding their UAV through a series of missions. Congratulations to prizewinners for quickly accomplishing objectives. Thank you to all who stopped to visit, play, and give input on the game.

At FrontierScientists, hear the story of ‘Mapping Ice Trails By UAV’. Chopping ice to clear trails for Native subsistence whaling is a living tradition. The sea ice offshore from Barrow, Alaska, is difficult terrain and the view from a UAV could provide a useful planning tool. Hear about early successes in mapping sea ice terrain by UAV from Dyre Oliver Dammann, graduate student, University Alaska Fairbanks, and from Eyal Saiet, ACUASI, University Alaska Fairbanks. Their work uses overlapping images obtained by a hexcopter UAV called a Ptarmigan using autopilot software to craft a printable map, and aims to provide a product that can benefit locals in Barrow.

Watch ‘UAV Over Otters’. Sea otters in Kachemak Bay can be spotted from shore using scopes, but scopes only give a clear view of what half the Bay’s sea otter population is eating. Using hovering UAVs can give scientists a clear view of otters far from shore without disturbing the otters’ activities. Scientists including Dan Monson, wildlife biologist, USGS, Benjamin Weitzman, wildlife biologist, USGS, and Brenda Konar, marine biology professor, University Alaska Fairbanks, worked with ACUASI pilots to test the process. Hovering UAVs over sea otters expands science possibilities by giving video feed of the animals chowing down. Explore the sea otter science in this video, and revisit our ‘Fly Scout Fly’ video to get into the details of operating the Scout UAV.

Laura Nielsen 2016

Frontier Scientists: presenting scientific discovery in the Arctic and beyond