Drone Demo: Smelter gets bird’s-eye search for potential cleanup issues

Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette Rick Dobson, research scientist with the Michigan Technological University Research Institute in Ann Arbor, controls an unmanned aerial vehicle taking images Tuesday at the former Quincy Smelter Works site in Ripley. Assisting Dobson is Rachael Edgmon.

RIPLEY — Drones are becoming ubiquitous, not only on battlefields, but also soaring over communities and specific locations, such as the former Quincy Smelting Works site in Ripley.

David Banach, assistant research scientist with the Michigan Technological University Research Institute in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said a team from the Institute was working Tuesday at the smelter site using a remotely-operated drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), to take imagery of the site with true color and infrared cameras.

The purpose was to locate buried infrastructure such as drainage pipes to get a better idea of what remediation needs to be done at the site.

Banach said the UAV with the thermal imagery and true-color cameras can help find features on the site not detectable unaided, such as underground pipes. The smelter site was filled in with stamp sands, and the UAV can be used to determine where the original shoreline for Portage Lake was at the smelter site. It can also be used to determine historic elevations of the land on the site, and buried items besides pipes.

“We’re pretty sure we found some rail tracks for carts (used by the smelter),” he said.

Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette Rick Dobson, research scientist with the Michigan Technological University Research Institute in Ann Arbor, prepares an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Tuesday prior to taking images at the former Quincy Smelter Works site in Ripley.

Banach said the images and data from the UAV can help recover information about a site lost over time.

Rick Dobson, research scientist with the Tech Research Institute in Ann Arbor, said it’s hoped the UAV, which he pilots, can help find drainage pipes on the smelter site, which may still be emptying into the Portage Lake.

“We’re hoping using thermal imagery we can find pipes not marked on maps,” he said.

Tim Scarlett, Tech associate professor of archaeology and anthropology, said the Tech Industrial Archeology program has been working at the smelter site for years.

“We’ve done a bunch of these (surveys) over time,” he said. “We’re supporting everything we can.”

Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette Scott See, executive director of the Keweenaw National Historical Park Advisory Commission, explains the history of the former Quincy Smelter Works site in Ripley to Calumet and Houghton high school students.

Several high school students from Houghton and Calumet high schools were at the site Tuesday to watch the operation of the UAV.

Donald Lafreniere, Tech assistant professor of Historical Geography in the Social Sciences Department and a Geographic Information System member of the Tech Great Lakes Research Center, said the students were part of a National Science Foundation grant-supported program called GIS Resources and Applications for Career Education, or GRACE.

The six-week GRACE program teaches students about technical careers, and provides hands-on experience.

“They’re actually getting paid $1,200 to learn all this stuff,” he said. “They are spending the bulk of the summer imaging the local communities.”

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