Monitoring change

Zheng Yang

Zheng Yang (PhD 2012-) is working on a remote-controlled helicopter that can monitor changes in the environment.

'Forewarned is forearmed - so for people living near volcanoes or in areas prone to flooding, accurate data can save lives. In danger zones like these, we need to know everything we can about the environment so we can predict disasters and act to save lives before they happen. The best way to collect this information is to fly over the area.

'Traditional aerial studies to monitor the environment in danger zones are highly complex and very expensive. They can't be used frequently so the quality of data is limited. They also pose great personal risk to the pilots who have to fly in dangerous conditions, for example over erupting volcanoes.

'I'm working on an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) - a remote-controlled helicopter, essentially - that is more flexible, much cheaper and can gather images at a higher resolution. Each UAV will cost less in time, money and risk to staff, so we'll be able to deploy them frequently and gather good quality data. This has the potential to benefit thousands of people across the world.

'Currently, we are testing UAVs in Exmoor, where we are monitoring the ecological conditions and carbon cycle of peatland. The UK is home to between nine to 15 per cent of Europe’s peatland, and about 13 per cent of the world’s blanket bog.

'I chose Bristol because of its reputation for applying the latest techniques in environmental conservation, and the excellent scientific research going on in the Department of Geography. I love working on applied technology with the power to push research forward.'


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