Pipelines in the Arctic must contend with a variety of geotechnical obstacles affecting their construction and long-term operation. For example, thawing permafrost leads to unstable terrain, especially on slopes and pipeline river crossings. Research funded by the US Department of Transportation is underway to investigate how unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) could be used to monitor permafrost and unstable soils in order to develop a proactive decision-support system for pipeline operators. Leading this research is the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) in cooperation with the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. The research will evaluate a variety of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to determine an optimal technology mix, and best practices for the persistent surveillance of thawing permafrost and shifting soils, thereby providing pipeline operators a broader picture of, and a means of mitigating, the geotechnical hazards that affect pipelines.

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