Using Drones To Predict The Future Of Climate Change

Brennon Edwards is a full-time video producer in Los Angeles, but spends free time volunteering as a citizen scientist - using his drone.

Brennon Edwards has always been fascinated with marine biology, so becoming a volunteer at The Nature Conservancy in California was a perfect fit. This Seeker Stories video takes a look at Brennon's job as a volunteer citizen scientist with the Nature Conservancy and how he's using drones to help preserve California's coastline.

California is seeing the effects of climate change in the form of rising sea levels and extreme weather, particularly in recent months due to El Niño. El Niño is the warm phase of a recurring pattern of weather in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Its counterpart is the cool phase known as La Niña. The two phases can switch back and forth every two to seven years, causing extreme weather events like temperature swings, strong winds and precipitation.

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Brennon's job is to fly drones over California's beaches to map and determine the effects of El Niño. That data help scientists better understand what climate change will look like for California's coast and what we can do to help save it.

Traditional mapping uses satellite imagery and aerial photography, but some of the weather effects are so fleeting that there's not enough time to capture them before they're gone. That's where drones come in. Drones can be deployed quickly, so they're much more useful for capturing things like unusually high water and flooding along the coast that may disappear within a few hours.

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The Nature Conservancy is also using a technology that most of us have in our pockets right at this very moment. As Chief Technology Officer of The Nature Conservancy CA, Matt Merrifield is in charge of crowdsourcing smartphone photos of unusual or extreme weather along California's coastline.

"We've asked people to take photos of events where there's been real high water along the coast or water that's been overtopping dunes or inundating coastal areas," Matt told Seeker Stories.

He can then map the weather effects using metadata from the photos.

"Once we have that information, we'll use the geospatial information in the photos to map because the phone photos actually have a location tag with them," he said.

One reason Brennon got involved with using drones for the Nature Conservancy's coastal preservation is because of the bad rap they tend to get.

"...There's a lot of publicity about drones and a lot of it isn't necessarily good. There's a lot that drones can do that are good for the community, and for the world, and it's just getting the word out there," Brennon told Seeker Stories.

-- Molly Fosco