"Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are poised to revolutionise remote sensing in the earth and environmental sciences," said Enrique Vivoni, hydrologist and professor at Arizona State University.

"They let individual scientists obtain low-cost repeat imagery at high resolution and tailored to a research team's specific interest area," Vivoni added.

Vivoni did his research in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts which cover large expanses of northern Mexico and the US Southwest.

Using drones in these areas allowed the scientists for improved studies on land-atmosphere exchanges and vegetation-runoff interactions."The biggest challenge for earth and environmental scientists has been obtaining high-resolution [data for] characterisations and predictions," Vivoni noted.

Both fixed wing and rotary wing UAVs can be used for ecohydrologic investigations. Researchers can also use quad-copters with photo cameras or video cameras.

Earlier, the scientists had to rely on piloted aircraft and satellites to collect remote sensing data, platforms that have traditionally been controlled by large research organisations or regulatory agencies.