Published: Nov. 13, 2017

A high spatial resolution drone built by Oliver Wigmore, researcher at INSTAAR and Earth Lab, was used to monitor glacier change of the Cordillera Blanca, Peru. It set records as the highest altitude deployment for glacial mapping purposes and was recognized in Science at the intersection of earth science and technology.

Wigmore's custom designed light, six-rotor hexacopter, capable of flying 6000 meters, completed aerial surveys to measure the Llaca Glacier in the Andes mountains. Climate change influences the rapid retreat and thinning of these tropical glaciers, which alters the timing, quantity and quality of water availability downstream. Associated with the melting of glaciers is the increase in the number and size of proglacial lakes and the concerning exposure to glacier lake outburst floods. Drones have become a transformative method for understanding how glaciers are changing and their connections with proglacial lake systems.

Results of Wigmore's and Byran Mark's (Ohio State University) surveys were recently published in The Cryosphere. Their study reveals a heterogeneous pattern of glacial change and illustrates the utility of evolving drone technology to study the effects of climate change in the cryosphere.

Read more in Wigmore's interview with Discover Magazine.