Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) activities at the Department of the Interior

Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing
By:  and 



The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) is responsible for protecting and managing the natural resources and heritage on almost 20% of the land in the United States. The DOI’s mission requires access to remotely sensed data over vast lands, including areas that are remote and potentially dangerous to access. Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) technology has the potential to enable the DOI to be a better steward of the land by: (1) Improving natural hazard forecasting and the analysis of the impacts. (2) Improving the understanding of climate change to better plan for likely impacts. (3) Developing precipitation and evaporation forecasting to better manage water resources. (4) Monitoring Arctic ice change and its impacts on ecosystems, coasts, and transportation. (5) Increasing safety and effectiveness of wildland fire management. (6) Enhancing search and rescue capabilities. (7) Broadening the abilities to monitor environmental or landscape conditions and changes. (8) Better understanding and protecting the Nation’s ecosystems. The initial operational testing and evaluations performed by the DOI have proven that UAS technology can be used to support many of the Department’s activities. UAS technology provides scientists a way to look longer, closer and more frequently at some of Earth’s most remote areas—places that were previously too dangerous or expensive to monitor in detail. The flexibility of operations and relative low cost to purchase and operate Small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS) enhances the ability to track long-term landscape and environmental change. The initial testing indicates the operational costs are approximately 10% of traditional manned aircraft. In addition, users can quickly assess landscape-altering events such as wildland fires, floods and volcanoes. UAS technology will allow the DOI to do more with less and in the process enhance the Department’s ability to provide unbiased scientific information to help stakeholders make informed decisions. It will also provide a digital baseline record that can be archived and used when monitoring future events or conditions. One possible future scenario has scientists carrying sUAS into the field allowing quick deployment and operation to observe the environment or for emergency response. This scenario could also include a persistent monitoring capability provided by a UAS that can stay airborne over a small geographic area for days or weeks, or possibly longer. While the DOI focus is on sUAS, the Department recognizes that larger UAS systems will also play a role in meeting its mission. The Department anticipates meeting long-duration or specialized acquisition commitments, such as state or national aerial photography, by collaboration with other agencies or through commercial contracts. Even though the DOI continues to evaluate UAS and sensor technology to meet the Department’s mission, some of its bureaus are already moving towards an operational capability. The authors fully anticipate that by 2020 UAS will emerge as one of the primary platforms for DOI remote sensing applications.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) activities at the Department of the Interior
Series title Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing
Volume 80
Issue 12
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher ASPRS
Contributing office(s) Office of Land Remote Sensing (Geography)
Description 7 p.
First page 1089
Last page 1095
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N