The Sky is the Only Limit

“Water is the miracle of our lives. We need it so badly, yet as humans we have made many negative decisions in the past with the use of asbestos, PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances), cyanide and other pollutants,” says Dr. Mine Dogan, assistant professor of geological and environmental sciences. “Now we know much better, and it’s important to fix our past mistakes.”

Dr. Mine Dogan with the VLF electromagnetic field measurement probe.

Dogan, who specializes in geophysics, focuses her research primarily on groundwater-related environmental issues. As one of the primary faculty members teaching courses in WMU’s new UAVs applications in geological and environmental sciences certificate program, she is bringing a unique technique to investigating such problems.

Dogan is credited for bringing a very low frequency electromagnetic sensor system to the University, making WMU just the second organization in the world to have a consumer drone outfitted with such a VLF system. Utilizing the equipment, she maps plumes and defines flow paths and possible geologic features that affect ground water movement. The results of her scholarship can play a critical role in informing water management plans and warning for short term environmental risks.

“Chemicals like PFAS have been used so excessively that we are just starting to realize the extent of their damage to the environment,” Dogan says. “The chemistry of these compounds is very complex; they don't break down readily in natural systems and are highly mobile in groundwater so they can travel long distances and spread through large volumes.”

Additionally, she says, the pollutants cover vast areas that are difficult to survey in detail. “I am working on developing better insight into groundwater movement, which requires understanding flow paths and their behavior,” she says.

The drone-mounted sensor is based on the same VLF technology that land-based facilities employ to send messages to submarines and that has been carried on aircraft for decades to map high-conductivity discontinuities in geological material.

The unique probe allows Dogan and her research team to map high conductivity media in reducing chemical environments, such as leachate from landfills. “I am very excited about this new system, as it promises great opportunities for environmental research,” she says.

Dogan is also in the process of forming a new instrument repository that will hold several very powerful UAV platforms and a variety of geophysical probes to map discontinuities, fractures, clay layers and other physical characteristics that inform groundwater flow models. She adds that the constantly evolving technology will continue to drive her research. “I will keep working on new technologies and new ways to utilize these technologies to ameliorate real-world problems,” she says.

View this story and more in the 2019 issue of WMU's Arts and Sciences Magazine.