Vegetation structure and function measurement and modelling using drone based sensing techniques

Host Institute
The University of Exeter (Environment and Sustainability Institute at the Penryn Campus in Cornwall)
Host Country
United Kingdom


– A control-system for UAVs that can sense the two parameters needed for intelligent data capture (i) aircraft attitude and (ii) complexity of vegetation canopy parameters below the aircraft.

– The control system will be used to adapt the flight plan of the aircraft to optimise data collection over complex vs. simple canopy structures.

– Validate results from systems in the UK using independent data from other high resolution remote sensing systems.

– Demonstrate the proof of concept for the intelligent-UAV that controls itself for data optimisation.



The successful ESR at Exeter will undertake PhD research whilst also fulfilling their role within the training network and participating in training events across partner institutions, based in various countries across the EU. The precise scope and focus of the PhD will be discussed and refined with the successful candidate upon appointment, but the main theme of the research will fall under the umbrella of drone-based sensing and optimising measurements from drones for improved models of vegetation condition, structure and function. Dr Karen Anderson’s research group is pioneering the use of drone-based sensing approaches for such purposes and the successful ESR appointed to this role will develop that work in synergy with other researchers across the TRuStEE network. The successful ESR will be expected, during the course of the programme of research, to work towards production of research papers of international quality with a view to publishing in good quality ISI-ranked journals. Those papers may be co-authored with Exeter-based scientists within the supervision team, and others may involve a wider group of stakeholders from across the consortium, but the expectation is that the ESR will lead the authorship of papers related to their work.
In line with the details given under ‘main purpose of the job’, the successful ESR will be required to attend training events at partner institutions and be involved in delivering training events held at Exeter. This will include a drone training course which is scheduled for month 13 of the project and will be hosted at the DroneLab in the ESI, University of Exeter. There are several planned secondments for the ESR to participate in, specifically:
Month 6: with Dr Micol Rossini at the University of Milano Bicocca UK to improve the ESR’s understanding of hyperspectral vegetation measurements
Month 10: with Nigel King at QuestUAV, Northumberland, UK, to collaborate and learn more about UAV systems
Month 20: with Dr Pilar Martin, CSIC, Spain, to deploy and test drone flights over the dehesa study site in Spain.
In addition, the ESR should be prepared to travel for project meetings and collaborative fieldtrips and scientific experiments across the EU countries involved (Spain, Italy, Netherlands, UK, Belgium, Denmark).


The activity will be supervised by Prof. Karen Anderson.