GMIT research team to explore use of drones to test water quality

Tuesday, July 24, 2018 Press Office
Press Release

Marine & Freshwater Research Centre experts first in Ireland to carry out this kind of research

The Marine and Freshwater Research Centre (MRFC) at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) has won funding from the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assess the potential of drones to sample water and physico-chemical data from open lakes.

The research, the first of its kind in Ireland, will be led by Dr Heather Lally, Dr Ian O’Connor and Dr Conor Graham who secured €132,000 for the two-year project. They will: assess the potential of drones for open lake water sampling; evaluate whether water samples collected using drones satisfy good ecological status as set out in the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD); determine whether drones can be used to increase the number of lakes monitored; and examine whether drones can offer a quicker, more cost effective, less labour intensive and safer sampling protocol for the EPA as part of their WFD Lake Monitoring programme.

The project team is made up of multi-national and multi-disciplinary experts including water chemistry scientists, lake biologists, incorporated engineers, licensed unmanned aerial vehicle pilots, and researchers applying drones in environmental monitoring.

The GMIT team are collaborating with industry partners Model Heli Services (MHS), a family-run, small-medium sized enterprise based in Ennis, Co Clare (Liam and Mark Broderick), and Professor Olaf Jensen of Rutgers University in New York State, USA who uses drones to monitor river and lake habitats in North America and Mongolia.

Their findings will inform and enable the development of new operation approaches to sample and monitor water quality. The results will also inform teaching and learning, specifically of undergraduate research projects in field and laboratory techniques. Principal Investigator Dr Heather Lally says “Application of drone technology in environmental monitoring has really taken off over the last few years. Here at GMIT’s Marine and Freshwater Research Centre, we are coupling this novel technology with a practical approach to solving water quality sampling issues and achieving greater compliance with the EU’s WFD. We hope that the project will allow a great number of inaccessible lakes to be monitored, whilst offering quicker sampling times and overall greater value for money to the Irish taxpayer”.

Dr Conor Graham, MFRC, GMIT, remarks that “Success of this innovative and collaborative project has the potential to develop Ireland as world leaders in lake water quality monitoring through enhanced efficiency combined with increased safety while considerably reducing the risk of spreading invasive species”.

Dr Rick Officer, GMIT’s Vice President for Research and Innovation, says: “The Institute’s MFRC has been utilising drones for environmental monitoring for several years. This new EPA-funded research is a first for Ireland and allows GMIT, in collaboration with Rutgers University and Model Heli Services, to lead development of innovative technological solutions to Ireland’s water quality sampling and monitoring of the Water Framework Directive”.

Mark Broderick, Model Heli Services, says “Ireland’s drone specialists, Model Heli Services, are delighted to be collaborating with GMIT in this exciting project. Combining our vast knowledge of drones with GMIT’s research capability will allow the use of drones to gather water samples in a safe manner. Lots of lakes are inaccessible or too dangerous to sample using boats. We will try to overcome these issues of safely using drones. We look forward to designing and building the drone and payload system. Ireland is leading the way with drones and how they can be used in all sectors -this is another chance to show what can be done.”

MHS will provide the technical know-how to design and build the specialist water sampling payload. MHS will also install separate communication technologies on the drone allowing easy deployment of the sampling payload, and transmission of real-time underwater camera images and physico-chemical data to flight operators that ensure correct and accurate sampling.

Overall the research has the potential to reduce water sampling costs, time, personnel requirements and resources whilst also improving safety compared to the EPA’s current method of sampling via boats. The use of cheaper drone technologies to gather water quality data may allow scarce resources to be redirected into sampling a greater number of lakes. This will allow for a more cost effective and complete WFD Lake Monitoring programme and ultimately Ireland’s greater compliance with the EU WFD.
To keep up-to-date with project news and research team activities follow us on twitter @DroPLEtS18 or check out our website

Picture caption:
Dr Heather Lally, Principal Investigator from the Marine and Freshwater Research Centre (MFRC), GMIT pictured holding the DJI Phantom drone during flight practice at Lough Bunny, Co Clare.

About drones – licensing:
In Ireland, the operation of drones is governed by the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) regulations with the Irish Aviation Authority (Small Unmanned Aircraft (Drones) and Rockets)(S.I. No. 563 of 2015) Order providing regulation of drones within Irish airspace. Under this legislation, registration with the IAA is mandatory for all drones >1kg and operational requirements are stipulated.
In addition, where a person wishes to operate a drone between 4 and <25kg including attached equipment a flight safety training course must be completed. All members of the research team have successfully completed drone flight school and industry partners MHS are full licensed to operate drones up to a 25kg in mass. Additional consideration will be given, and precautions taken during field trials to comply with Data Protection, restrictions imposed by the Office of Public Works and implications of using drones within NATURA 2000 sites. Full access to lake sites will be secured by any third parties before trials begin and will be conducted in association with the EPA WFD Lake Monitoring team.

EPA Research Programme 2014–2020
The EPA’s current Research Programme 2014–2020 is built around three pillars -Sustainability, Climate and Water.
More information about the EPA Research Programme can be found by visiting the EPA Website where you can sign up for the quarterly Research Newsletter. This provides news and updates about research calls, events and publications that are of relevance to researchers and other interested parties.
You can also follow EPA Research on Twitter @eparesearchnews for the very latest information and developments about the Research Programme and its projects.

Issued by Regina Daly, GMIT Communications Officer
Tel 091 742826/ 087-9618355 (m) email: