BY DAVID J. MITCHELL The Advocate
River Parishes bureau
Nicholls State University in Thibodaux is testing a new kind of eye in the sky to track coastal erosion and the health of Louisiana’s barrier islands more closely.
The islands are an important habitant for migratory birds and a frontline protection against hurricanes, but the islands have undergone heavy erosion as the state’s coast has faded into the Gulf of Mexico.
Often the province of satellites and airplanes, the coastal mapping effort by Nicholls, which is in its early stages, is being tried with a six-foot, unmanned aircraft that has a four-foot wingspan and a small propeller engine, a university professor said.
Nicholls State is one of 61 universities, police departments and other government agencies with Federal Aviation Administration authorization allowing the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, according to an FAA list.
The remotely operated UAVs, or drones, use the same kind of technology once reserved for tracking and killing terrorist insurgents in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere overseas.
Mississippi State University, for example, also has an authorization as a part of its Raspet Flight Research Laboratory where its primary focus is studying lightweight composite materials and unmanned systems.