On the use of unmanned aerial systems for environmental monitoring

Salvatore Manfreda*, Matthew F. McCabe, Pauline E. Miller, Richard Lucas, Victor Pajuelo Madrigal, Giorgos Mallinis, Eyal Ben Dor, David Helman, Lyndon Estes, Giuseppe Ciraolo, Jana Müllerová, Flavia Tauro, M. Isabel de Lima, João L.M.P. de Lima, Antonino Maltese, Felix Frances, Kelly Caylor, Marko Kohv, Matthew Perks, Guiomar Ruiz-PérezZhongbo Su, Giulia Vico, Brigitta Toth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

508 Citations (Scopus)
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Environmental monitoring plays a central role in diagnosing climate and management impacts on natural and agricultural systems; enhancing the understanding of hydrological processes; optimizing the allocation and distribution of water resources; and assessing, forecasting, and even preventing natural disasters. Nowadays, most monitoring and data collection systems are based upon a combination of ground-based measurements, manned airborne sensors, and satellite observations. These data are utilized in describing both small- and large-scale processes, but have spatiotemporal constraints inherent to each respective collection system. Bridging the unique spatial and temporal divides that limit current monitoring platforms is key to improving our understanding of environmental systems. In this context, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) have considerable potential to radically improve environmental monitoring. UAS-mounted sensors offer an extraordinary opportunity to bridge the existing gap between field observations and traditional air- and space-borne remote sensing, by providing high spatial detail over relatively large areas in a cost-effective way and an entirely new capacity for enhanced temporal retrieval. As well as showcasing recent advances in the field, there is also a need to identify and understand the potential limitations of UAS technology. For these platforms to reach their monitoring potential, a wide spectrum of unresolved issues and application-specific challenges require focused community attention. Indeed, to leverage the full potential of UAS-based approaches, sensing technologies, measurement protocols, postprocessing techniques, retrieval algorithms, and evaluation techniques need to be harmonized. The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of the existing research and applications of UAS in natural and agricultural ecosystem monitoring in order to identify future directions, applications, developments, and challenges.

Original languageEnglish
Article number641
Pages (from-to)1-28
Number of pages28
JournalRemote sensing
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


  • Environmental monitoring
  • Precision agriculture
  • Remote sensing
  • River monitoring
  • Soil moisture
  • UAS
  • Vegetation indices


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