In the past, someone wanting an aerial view of the Tri-State Mining District would have had to rent an airplane and hire a photographer.
Kush Bhakta, a sophomore mechanical engineering major at Missouri Southern State University, has come up with a much more efficient way to monitor the ongoing cleanup at the region's mining sites. He is using an unmanned aerial vehicle, a drone, to capture images from an altitude of 1,000 feet that can be compared with the historical record.
Over the last several months, Bhakta has collected videos and still images from areas in Southwest Missouri, Southeast Kansas and Northeast Oklahoma – the Tri-State district where lead and zinc were heavily mined from the mid-1800s to 1970.
“We reviewed a lot of government, academic and archive literature from the Joplin Museum Complex,” Bhakta said. “It gave us some ideas of places we could go. Brad Belk, the museum director, provided us with a lot of old images we could use as comparative pictures. It really helped out.”
Bhakta is working with Dr. Albert Yeboah-Forson, an assistant professor of geophysics at Southern.
“We want to know how far these former mining locations have gotten in terms of remediation,” Yeboah-Forson said. “Typically, we would do that by collecting water and soil samples, but we have limited resources.
“So then we decided to use a drone to tell us where we should focus our research. The first part of this study is the drone component. We’ll then pick a couple of sites to do a chemistry analysis with students next semester.”
The aerial findings have been grouped into three areas – incomplete, successful and unsuccessful remediation. Data collected during the study will hopefully prove useful to the communities being looked at, Yeboah-Forson said. It will be used to find problem areas and suggest ways for further cleanup work.
Bhakta became involved with drones as a hobby about two years ago.
"From the ground, you cannot see the entire area that has been affected by mining," he said. "When I see it from the air, I am amazed by how large some of these areas are."
Bhakta gave a presentation on his project during the American Geophysical Union’s conference on Dec. 14-18 in San Francisco. While attending the meeting, Bhakta said, he met other students who were "discovering ways to apply this relatively new technology. A lot of people are trying to use this technology."
Bhakta said he met a student from the University of Maryland who was doing similar research.
"But this was much higher stakes than what we are doing," he said. "Their drone cost $60,000. They were using it for agricultural purposes. Instead of scoping out the mines like we have, they were looking for vegetation in Tanzania.''
After his presentation, Bhatka said, he answered a lot of questions.
"We also had the Kansas U.S. Geological Survey and the Kansas EPA there, so they knew about the area,'' he said. "They were intrigued with the research.''
Bhakta is the first student from Missouri Southern to present at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting.
The event included about 1,800 presentations on a variety of scientific topics, workshops and networking opportunities. The keynote speaker was Elon Musk, CEO and lead designer at Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and the co-founder of Tesla Motors.
Kush Bhakta, a sophomore mechanical engineering major at Missouri Southern State University, said the data from aerial images show that significant progress has been made in the cleanup of mining sites in the Oronogo-Duenweg Mining Belt when compared with the mining sites at what was Picher in Oklahoma.