Drone research over Italian Alps confirms depleted water resources

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    Photo: Team DREAM, Alta Scuola Politecnica (ASP) dei Politecnici di Milano e Torino.

    A joint project by the Polytechnic Universities of Milan and Turin to monitor the sustainability of hydro resources in the Alps has returned worrying results.

    Students from both universities have been using drones to map glaciers and monitor water resources in the Monte Rosa massif.

    The project, known as Dream, has produced further evidence that the amount of snow and ice is being dramatically reduced year-on-year.

    "Because every year we consume the reserve of the previous year plus a share of the existing one. We are already at a negative delta. We are losing non-renewable water resources," Professor Carlo de Michele, the project leader, told La Stampa.

    "It is a resource that will no longer exist. We started out to know how much water there is in snow. Then we went to the glaciers," adds De Michele.

    Up 75 percent of ice on glaciers below 3,000 metres is set to melt in the next 20 years, according to a report titled Boiling Ice by the World Wildlife Foundation. 

    Project Dream trialled the drone on the Belvedere Iceberg, on the slopes of Monte Rosa, more than 2000 metres above sea-level. 

    The iceberg, which extends for more than 3.2 square kilometres, is notoriously difficult to access because it is enclosed by the east wall of Monte Rosa.

    "The project aims at generating the digital model of a glacier heights to be confronted with previous measurements, for a multi-temporal analysis of glaciers dynamics, useful to understand the state of the glacier and to assess the accumulation and losses on annual scale," wrote the university in a statement on August 23rd. 

    Put simply, the drone collects data which allows the experts to see how much ice is disappearing every year. 

    The drone used by Milan's Polytechnic University team. Photo: Team DREAM dell’Alta Scuola Politecnica (ASP) dei Politecnici di Milano e Torino.

    Team Dream developed its own Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and conducted tests for four months in simulated conditions before launching the initial phase of the project this summer.

    The DIY drone has a flying time of 40 minutes and is installed with two infrared modified "actions cams." The project will continue to map Belvedere in the next year with two drones, said a spokesman. 

    Students hold a drone on an exercise near the Belvedere Glacier. Photo: Team DREAM dell’Alta Scuola Politecnica (ASP) dei Politecnici di Milano e Torino. 

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