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Protecting our Global Waterways Using Drones

Patrick Rynne has a passion for marine physics. A PhD student at the University of Miami in the field of applied marine physics, Patrick co-founded nonprofit Waterlust in 2011 with Fiona Graham, a fellow graduate student in Marine Affairs and Policy who studies shark conservation, to help foster appreciation for the marine world through film.

Waterlust has three main areas of focus: marine science, sport and art. “Our view is that if you can get people to think, that thinking can lead to increased awareness and behavioral change,” said Patrick.

It was a passion for film that led Patrick and Fiona to reach out to 3D Robotics. They wanted to experiment with the use of drones to capture aerial imagery of coastal waterways. The experiment was so successful that they have now incorporated UAV technology into their research. This includes participation in the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment (CARTHE), a multi-million dollar research effort funded by BP, based out of the University of Miami.

“The main goal of this project is to understand how spilled oil moves through the ocean,” said Patrick. “This will enable scientists to predict where oil would flow in the event of another spill.”

As part of their CARTHE efforts, Patrick and Fiona have been working on an experiment called SCOPE, which stands for Surfzone Coastal Oil Pathways Experiment, which looks at how oil travels through the surf zone.

“We wanted to photograph dye releases and use the images to make estimates about how currents move,” said Patrick. “We filmed the experiment using a 3DR Y6 for a future Waterlust film.” (You can view a short film Waterlust produced about the CARTHE project here.)

Patrick and Fiona plan to contribute the data they collected through SCOPE to help CARTHE develop models that predict the impact of oil spills on waterways. They hope this model will influence environmental policy and support the development of crisis response plans for potential oil spills in the future.

“By understanding how it works, we will collectively be better equipped to mitigate damage from oil spills in the future,” said Patrick.

To learn more about CARTHE, check out their Facebook page.

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