Using drones to clean sea pollution

Throughout the years, we have witnessed various environmental disasters caused by hydrocarbon spills in the sea. The influence of these spills on marine flora and fauna is enormous, and they also contribute to declining fish populations. A proper, timely response to spills is thus of the utmost importance. Oil spills are cleaned through coordinated daily actions that use boats with floating dams and special materials to absorb hydrocarbons. Through years of experience, this process has been optimized and is well known. However, nighttime spill cleanup is the topic of professional debate; all activities are usually suspended at night, which results in the loss of precious time. In order to avoid this in the future, a model was designed that uses drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras to detect hydrocarbon spills; prior to use on the sea surface, this method was researched and confirmed in laboratory conditions.

Cooperation with Dezinsekcija d.o.o. Rijeka and the Faculty of Civil Engineering in Rijeka on a pilot project to discover hydrocarbons on water surfaces at night using drones and thermal imaging cameras

The University of Rijeka’s Faculty of Civil Engineering has a state-of-the-art hydrotechnical laboratory and experienced scientific and technical staff; the research itself was carried out at this laboratory.

The goal of the project and research we conducted was to design a more efficient, better, less expensive way to research sea surfaces than methods currently available, allowing us to clean up spills more quickly and efficiently and at lower cost.

Another goal was to prove that hydrocarbon pollution can be detected in low-visibility or zero-visibility conditions (especially at night).

Our practical experience and the results of this research led to the conclusion that using drones to survey water surfaces allows:

  • more efficient, better, and less expensive monitoring of the sea and coastline compared to monitoring by plane or large drone;
  • a wider perspective / better overview of the sea surface and the hydrocarbon spill itself from vessels participating in cleanup — by launching drones with special thermal imaging cameras to a height of 100-200m above the clean-up ship increases the visual field to 1-1.5 ha of surface, which allows better responses to spills and more exact placement of spill containment systems;
  • simple, fast detection of potential hydrocarbon leaks outside areas corralled with floating dams during the day — if a leak occurs, it can be immediately detected and additional spill containment systems can be deployed;
  • simple, fast detection of potential hydrocarbon leaks outside areas corralled with floating dams during the night;
  •  checking the efficiency and positioning of hydrocarbon clean-up systems (skimmers, pumps, etc.) — quality monitoring is exceptionally important to the efficiency of the devices themselves and the quantity of hydrocarbons collected during their operation;
  • the availability of images and data in real time — by connecting drones with a two-way cable to a laptop, tablet, smartphone, etc., thus increasing the quality and speed of decisions regarding the clean-up effort to the highest possible level.