Monitoring urban heat with uncrewed aerial vehicles

This project aims to advance the Darwin Living Lab (DLL) urban heat island research with improved monitoring using uncrewed aircraft (drone) and radiometric technologies and to build local capacity for this research in the Northern Territory

Project duration: February 2021 – January 2024

How are we improving urban monitoring and developing local capacity in Darwin?

By developing methodologies to integrate aerial thermography with other data such as, satellite remote sensing and ground-based loggers we will be able to monitor, evaluate, and track changes in the thermal environment and heat reflectivity of Darwin CBD more accurately. However, we also recognise the need for data to be collected, processed, and analysed locally to ensure the sustainability of urban monitoring projects in the Territory. Therefore, CDU is working in collaboration with CSIRO to ensure local CDU students and staff are gaining the skills and knowledge required to conduct these complex operations

RGB (left) and thermal (right) orthomosaics of the CBD Education precinct build site. Imagery was taken using a traditional lawnmower pattern survey design during the early dry season. Thermal imagery shows relative temperatures from cooler (purple) to hotter (yellow).

What have we learnt?

Operating drones in the urban environment is complex. From a technical standpoint, there is a large variety of materials – all emitting heat differently and their emission varying significantly with the environmental conditions. Then there are the regulatory and safety concerns associated with flying a drone in a built up and populous locations. Despite this complexity, we have conducted several flights in the Darwin CBD and the CDU Casuarina Campus. These flights show a large diversity in thermal heat across all these materials, from cool spots around trees and water bodies to high-heat concrete and metal areas

What’s next?

Drone flights are continuing across the Darwin CBD and at a number of test locations to develop data acquisition and calibration techniques, and understanding of thermal assessments. We are now looking at how all these different materials contribute to the overall surface temperature detected by aerial radiometric cameras in our urban landscapes.

Further information

Dr Rebecca Rogers (
Professor Hamish Campbell (
Dr Deepak Gautam (
Mr. Razib Ahmed (

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