Water sampling at depth with drones

Safer, less costly testing with unmanned aerial water sampling systems

Goldcorp Canada Ltd., Kinross, National Oilwell Varco and Nevada Division of Environmental Protection | Canada, USA | 2017

Mine pit lakes are hazardous work environments

CAD$20,000 to CAD$40,000 savings
vs. boat-based water data sampling

Enhanced safety and efficiency

Precise, repeatable, sampling locations found with autonomous flights


Mining companies must conduct monitoring programs to manage the chemistry and ecology of any lakes or bodies of water with which their operations come in contact. They take samples on a regular basis to monitor the evolution of the water quality.

Traditionally, monitoring teams access these lakes via haul roads. They take samples from the shoreline or use a boat to collect water samples at depths from the center of the lake. This can present many safety risks to the teams obtaining the samples, such as:

  • drowning;
  • hypothermia;
  • the collapse of unstable access roads;
  • rock falls and landslides from pit walls;
  • direct skin contact with hazardous substances.

To minimize these risks, mining companies invest in safety training, specialized teams and equipment, and long-term maintenance programs. When safety risks are particularly high, workers may not be able to obtain samples at all, and may have to effectively trade a safety risk for an environmental one.


A water-sampling campaign was conducted in which government and clients' flooded pits were visited and water samples obtained using an unmanned aerial water-sampling system.

By using an attachment (patent pending) that Hatch has developed for drones, water samples can be collected below the water surface without the need for personnel to access the lake surface. The solution also allows for the collection of in situ profiles of physiochemical parameters (i.e., temperature, electrical conductivity, and water density).

Samples were collected from precise, repeatable locations from depths of up to 80 metres. With the Hatch Mobile Water Testing Lab, samples were quickly analyzed for pH, iron species, total arsenic, and alkalinity. Results were provided to clients with immediate analyses and interpretations. This information could then be used to determine if additional samples were required at specific or difference depths.

Overall, the costs of a typical sampling event were reduced and a large health-and-safety risk was eliminated by avoiding the need for mine personnel to access the water surface. A testing process that would normally have taken days could now be executed within hours.

This solution can collect water samples from inaccessible or hazardous areas which were previously impossible to sample.


  • Improved safety was realized by eliminating the need to enter hazardous areas and travel over the water surface.
  • The cost of sampling decreased by eliminating or reducing the need for maintenance, specialized training, and equipment, such as boats.
  • The mobilization time required for sampling events was reduced.
  • The frequency of water sampling events in monitoring programs increased.
  • Clients were provided with immediate analyses and interpretation of results from profiling devices and Hatch's Mobile Water Testing Lab.

“After travelling with the Hatch team last week and taking part in sampling of several pit lakes I have no doubt that this system will be the choice for sampling pit lakes in the near future.”

Connor Newman | Environmental Scientist – Hydrology & Geochemistry, Bureau of Mining Regulation& Reclamation, Nevada Division of Environmental Protection

Project Numbers

  • Seven pit lakes and one drinking-water reservoir sampled to date
  • 80 metres (263 feet): maximum depth of water samples collected to date with this innovative, patent-pending solution
  • An estimated CAD$245,000 in savings compared to the average cost of traditional, boat-based, water-sampling procedures
  • Immediate analysis and interpretations of results when paired with the Hatch Mobile Water Testing Lab

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