Today a report on the State of Environmental Science in Svalbard (SESS) was released during the SIOS Polar Night Week in Longyearbyen. It is the third issue of an annual series of reports published by the Svalbard Integrated Arctic Earth Observing System (SIOS). I wrote a chapter on how unmanned vehicles are used for scientific applications in Svalbard together with a group of international researchers.

In our work, we conducted a literature search and identified all publications that used any sort of unmanned vehicles for research in Svalbard. We ended up with a database with about 50 entries, ranging from 2007-2020. The dataset gave us insight into some very interesting aspects of how unmanned vehicles are used in Svalbard today and by whom.

One of the main findings that I found very interesting is that there are two groups of users. On the one hand, a large number of scientists use very simple off-the-shelf drones (e.g. DJI Mavic, DJI Phantom) in their work. Such drones are relatively cheap and easy to use. They are used for getting a birds-eye view and to map areas, which can be a great benefit for many scientific applications. On the other hand, there are few people who use very sophisticated systems such as fixed-wing drones or unmanned marine vehicles. These vehicles are typically used for very specialized tasks for example in meteorology to sample the atmosphere.

The key recommendation that we draw from our study is unmanned vehicles are an important and emerging technology that can benefit a wide range of scientific applications in the Arctic. For this reason, we recommend that SIOS should aim to lower the barrier for researchers to implement simple drones in their work – this will widen the userbase. In addition, support should be given to further develop unmanned vehicle applications and to open the use of more sophisticated systems.

Reference: Hann, R., Altstädter, B., Betlem, P., Deja, K., Dragańska-Deja K., Ewertowski, M., Hartvich, F., Jonassen, M., Lampert, A., Laska, M., Sobota, I., Storvold, R., Tomczyk, A., Wojtysiak, K. Zagórski P. (2021). Scientific Applications of Unmanned Vehicles in Svalbard. SESS report 2020, Svalbard Integrated Arctic Earth Observing System. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.4293283