Drone technology locating lost grave sites in southern Alberta

Global News Article by By Micah Quintin & Quinn Campbell, posted November 22, 2023

Drones locating lost gravesites? A new initiative is helping to discover unmarked graves in eight cemeteries across Vulcan County. A group of students and researchers from the University of Lethbridge recently used some high flying technology to help southern Alberta communities honour and protect their past. Using modern technology, drones are locating lost gravesites in the region. Data from drones is helping to identify potentially lost grave sites, ones where markers have gone missing or were never recorded, while also establishing profiles for cemeteries located in Vulcan County.

Craig Coburn, professor and chair of the department of geography and environment at the U of L, said the drones’ thermal imaging created detailed surface models of each cemetery, helping to locate missing grave sites. “We can spot the small differences that we need, so in some instances, we will be able to detect the presence of a grave that’s been mislocated or forgotten based on a temperature difference,” added Coburn.

The initiative, which is a joint partnership between the university and Vulcan County, mapped out eight cemeteries in the region and provided participants with important real-world experience. “We’re getting research needs met, we’re getting needs met for student learning, as well as we’re able to meet the need of our funders,” added Coburn. Vulcan County councillor Christopher Northcott added the project is helpful because unmarked graves are a real issue for rural communities. “Graves that were put in the ground 100 years ago and never properly recorded can be a real challenge when you’re trying to use the space you have available for new graves.”

With the drone flights now complete, researchers are using the data to further understand the capabilities of remote sensing technology, while the communities can use the results to better understand and celebrate their histories.

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