Skip to main content

Aeromagnetic Surveying with a Rotary-Wing Unmanned Aircraft System: A Case Study from a Zinc Deposit in Nash Creek, New Brunswick, Canada


Unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) have been under rapid development for applications in the mineral exploration industry, mainly for aeromagnetic surveying. They provide improved detection of smaller, deeper and weaker magnetic targets. A traditional system flying an altitude of 100 m above ground level (AGL) can detect a spherical ore body with a radius of ~ 16 m and a magnetic susceptibility of 10−4 buried at a depth of 40 m. A UAS flying at an altitude of 50 or 2 m AGL would require the radius to be 11 or 5 m, respectively. A demonstration survey was performed using the SkyLance rotary-wing UAS instrumented with a cesium vapour magnetometer in Nash Creek, New Brunswick, Canada. The UAS flew over a zinc deposit featuring three magnetic anomalies. It acquired repeatable data that compared well with upward continuation maps of ground magnetic data. Dykes or faults that are dipping eastward at 25° and are approximately 1.5 m wide fit the observed response of the three anomalies captured on the UAS magnetic data.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10
Fig. 11
Fig. 12


  1. Anderson, D., & Pita, A. (2005). Geophysical surveying with GeoRangerTM UAV (pp. 67–78). Reston: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Bongajum, E. (2011). Investigating seismic wave scattering in heterogeneous environments and implications for seismic imaging. Toronto: University of Toronto.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Brown, D. (2007). Technical report on mineral resource estimate, Nash Creek project, Restigouche County, New Brunswick Canada

  4. Burns, M. (2017). UAV-MAGThe leader in unmanned geophysics surveying. Retrieved August 03, 2017, from Pioneer Aerial Surveys Ltd.

  5. Caron, R., Samson, C., Straznicky, P., Ferguson, S., Archer, R., & Sander, L. (2011). Magnetic and magneto-gradiometric surveying using a simulated unmanned aircraft system. In 81st Annual meeting of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (Vol. 30, pp. 861–865). San Antonio, TX: SEG Expanded Abstracts.

  6. Caron, R., Samson, C., Straznicky, P., Ferguson, S., & Sander, L. (2014). Aeromagnetic surveying using a simulated unmanned aircraft system. Geophysical Prospecting, 62, 352–363.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Coyle, M., Dumont, R., Kiss, F., & Miles, W. (2014). Geological Survey of Canada aeromagnetic surveys: Design, quality assurance, and data dissemination. Ottawa: Geological Survey of Canada.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  8. Cunningham, M. (2016). Aeromagnetic surveying with unmanned aircraft systems. M.Sc. Thesis. Department of Earth Sciences, Carleton University

  9. Dentith, M., & Mudge, S. T. (2014). Geophysics for the mineral exploration geoscientist. Cambridge (UK): University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  10. Dion-Ortega, A. (2015, June). Abitibi Géophysique lance le tout premier drone magnétométrique. Montreal, QC, Canada. Retrieved November 09, 2015, from

  11. Eck, C., & Imbach, B. (2011). Aerial magnetic sensing with an UAV helicopter ISPRS. International Archives of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences, XXXVIII-1/C22, 81–85.

  12. Elkins, T., & Hammer, S. (1938). The resolution of combined effects, with applications to gravitational and magnetic data. Geophysics.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Gordon, R., (2016). The development of magnetometer UAV platforms for geoscience. GEM Systems, Toronto, ON, Canada. Retrieved August 03, 2017, from

  14. Kroll, A. (2013). Evaluation of an unmanned aircraft for geophysical survey. In 23rd international geophysical conference and expedition (pp. 1–4). Melbourne, Australia: ASEG Extended Abstracts.

  15. Pajares, G. (2015). Overview and current status of remote sensing applications based on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing, 81, 281–329.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Parvar, K. (2016). Development and evaluation of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) magnetometry systems. M.A.Sc. Thesis. Department of Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering, Queens University.

  17. Peck, R., & Devore, J. L. (2012). Statistics—The exploration & analysis of data (7th ed.). Boston: Cengage Learning.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Samson, C., Straznicky, P., Laliberte, J., Caron, R., Ferguson, S., & Archer, R. (2010). Designing and building an unmanned aircraft system for aeromagnetic surveying. In 80th Annual meeting of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (Vol. 29, pp. 1167–1171). Denver, CO: SEG Expanded Abstracts.

  19. Telford, W., Geldart, L., Sheriff, R., & Keys, D. (1976). Applied geophysics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Ugalde, H., L’Heureux, E., & Milkereit, B. (2007). An integrated geophysical study for orebody delineation, Nash Creek, New Brunswick. In Proceedings of exploration 07: Fifth decennial international conference on mineral exploration (pp. 1055–1058).

  21. Walker, J. A. (2010). Stratigraphy and lithogeochemistry of Early Devonian volcano-sedimentary rocks hosting the Nash Creek Zn-Pb-Ag Deposit, northern New Brunswick (pp. 52–97). Geological Investigations in New Brunswick for 2009. New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources; Lands Minerals and Petroleum Division, Mineral Resource Report 2010-1

  22. Wood, A., Cook, I., Doyle, B., Cunningham, M., & Samson, C. (2016). Experimental aeromagnetic survey using an unmanned air system. The Leading Edge, 35, 270–273.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank Dr. Bernd Milkereit from the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Toronto for facilitating access to the Nash Creek property as well as lending us the use of his ground magnetic survey equipment. We also thank Andrew Hay from Carleton University for assisting with the ground magnetic survey data collection. This project was partially funded through an ENGAGE grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to C. Samson.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael Cunningham.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Cunningham, M., Samson, C., Wood, A. et al. Aeromagnetic Surveying with a Rotary-Wing Unmanned Aircraft System: A Case Study from a Zinc Deposit in Nash Creek, New Brunswick, Canada. Pure Appl. Geophys. 175, 3145–3158 (2018).

Download citation


  • Unmanned aircraft systems
  • Magnetics
  • Airborne surveying
  • Mineral exploration