GIS Banner 2021

Drone Research and Environmental GIS

The Drone Research and Environmental GIS group has an extensive track record in the field of GIS and the Environment. Earlier research areas include automated land cover change detection and classification, 3D geological data modelling, data structures and algorithms for surface and terrain modelling, and environmental impact assessment of wind farms. Our research partners have included NERC, British Geological Survey, the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute and Acclimatize. 

The group also has an interest in the use of location-based techniques, such as those based around the use of GPS equipment in areas such as in-car navigation and tracking individuals in a variety of health/environmental scenarios under strict ethical guidelines. 

More recently the group has become involved in projects that integrate GIS and modern data collection technologies including GPS, laser scanners and UAV. The work has been applied to various domains, including a range of environmental applications and archaeological modelling.

Recent research activities

Recent landslides in the South Wales valleys due to unprecedented flooding has raised huge concerns over the safety and stability of slag heaps from previous mining operations. A new voluntary research project working with Rhondda Cynon Taff Council aims to monitor the rate of slippage of slag heap material on the mountain above Tylorstown using drones and high accuracy ground control points. The photo below is generated by combining individual images captured by drone which are then stitched together to form one highly detailed orthomosaic image. 

An interactive 3D model allows for a 'virtual' inspection of the landslide from any height, angle, and direction, and can also be viewed via a VR headset. 


The GIS drone research team has worked with a charity funded project led by the Aberystruth History and Archeaology Society to help map 9000 years of Welsh history in the Blaenau Gwent Valley. The ‘Digital Archaeology for All’ project aims to bring 3D and Virtual Reality experiences to children and adults with disabilities. A major benefit is to make history inclusive for those who are unable to visit the various archaeology sites in person. The sites surveyed include the remains of a Bronze age dwelling; a 19th century mine and more recently the remains of a World War One firing range. 

The Aberystruth History and Archaeology Society has launched an ambitious project to survey and create a 3D interactive model of the Cwmcelyn valley. The valley is three miles long by two miles wide. The 3D surveying with be done using drones with help from the GIS drone team at USW. 

Ian Fewings AHAS Secretary said, “this is a massive project that will help map some of the three hindered archaeological sites that have been found in the area. I would like to thank the GIS team and the Informatics department for their help and dedication to this project." 

The GIS drone team has collaborated with the Vale of Glamorgan Council with a recent completion of a very successful PhD project to survey and map the movement of material due to coastal erosion at Penarth cliff-face. A huge congratulations to Dr. Mitchell Eboigbe.

3D model of Penarth cliff face

3D generated model of Penarth cliff face

The drone team has worked with the Brecon Beacons National Trust to survey problems associated with illegal fly tipping, land scarring (due to illegal quad biking), and to help establish fire breaks to protect local communities in and around Merthyr Common and Trelewis. 

Fire Break Trelewis

Firebreak, Trelewis

Japanese Knotweed is an invasive plant species which can cause structural damage to buildings and infrastructure where it can penetrate concrete foundations and even tarmac. It can grow more than a meter a month and costs the UK economy an estimated £165 million a year (2010) to control in urban areas. Identifying and controlling Japanese Knotweed has become a major priority in recent years especially on the impact of home devaluations. 

Surveying to ascertain if Japanese Knotweed is present within a specific area has traditionally been undertaken on foot. This can be time consuming and difficult if certain areas are not accessible or safe to traverse. A new solution in the monitoring of Japanese Knotweed is to use UAVs (drones) to survey and to photograph large areas of land from above. In order to achieve this, we need to use multispectral cameras which not only capture normal visible RGB light, but they can also capture non-visible light which is invisible to the human eye and this non-visible light is key to identifying different species of plants such as Japanese Knotweed. 

Unsupervised Classification.jpg

Contact us

If you have any questions about our GIS research or would like to collaborate with us, please contact Dr Mark Ware.

Research Opportunities

We welcome UK and international applications from suitably qualified graduates interested in joining us for either full or part-time Masters by Research or PhD research programmes. Find out more on the Graduate School website or contact Llinos Spargo.


Dr Nathan Thomas' research interests currently focus on the use of UAVs for surveying, photography and mapping.  He is a qualified CAA commercial drone pilot and completed his PhD in automated cartography working with the Ordnance Survey. Dr Thomas is a senior lecturer and course leader for the Information Communication Technology degree.

Dr Mark Ware is an Associate Professor. His research interests include automated map generalization, GIS-based optimization algorithms, GIS and disaster management, spatial data structures, open-source GIS and ethical surveillance. 

Hamzeh Aldwairy's thesis is exploring: Low-cost remote sensing for environmental management 

Mitchell Eboigbe's thesis is on: Remote sensing for coastal management.

Dr Steve Williams was awarded his doctorate in October 2019 for: Ethical surveillance – smart technology for dementia support in the community.