GREAL’s first aerophotogrammetric test flight by UAS over the Roman Villa della Fontanaccia archaeological site (Tolfa, Italy).

Yesterday morning, May 10th 2022, GREAL conducted its first UAS-based aerophotogrammetric test over the Roman Villa della Fontanaccia archaeological site, in the mountains near Tolfa. During two flights, for an overall duration of approximately fourty minutes, initial data were gathered and procedures were validated, towards a research and teaching protocol that GREAL will develop in the next months in cooperation with the “Gruppo Archeologico Romano (GAR).

The test was attended by GAR’s President Gianfranco Gazzetti, by GREAL’s Director Gianluca Casagrande and by UER’s lecturer Alessandra Romano.

Aerial and ground images (the latter in a 360° format) will become part of a periodical data acquisition that GREAL will conduct for documenting GAR’s excavation activities on the site, during 2022-2023. The activity served also as a demo for students of UER’s MOT certificate programme, who could enjoy an onsite visit of the valuable Roman site and also to have a brief hands-on experience of archaeological excavation.    


UER and GREAL at the “Borsa Mediterranea del Turismo Archeologico” at Paestum

Paestum’s archaeological park, in Campania region, Italy, hosts the 2021 edition of the “Borsa Mediterranea del Turismo Archeologico”, a major national event involving research, institutional participation and enterpreneurship in tourism initiatives for historical sites and cultural heritage.

UER’s School of Tourism and GREAL participated to the activities on November 25th and 26th, presenting the academic program for 2022-2023, and opening an information desk about the laboratory’s activities. UER’s delegation included Prof. Luigi Russo, Development and Communication manager Marco Brotto Rizzo, Prof. Alessandra Romano, Prof. Gianluca Casagrande, PhD candidate Roberta Rodelli and Ms. Giulia Vinci (GREAL). During a talk to present several Schools of Tourism in Italy, representatives from different academic institutions exchanged their views on present-day scenarios for tourism and archaeology. With specific focus on the professional opportunities in both areas, all speakers encouraged the numerous students attending the event to keep an optimistic outlook on the future. The birth of new professions, particularly in technological fields and digital humanities, will ensure remarkable opportunities to the most dedicated, motivated and creative students.  




Il direttore scientifico del progetto internazionale, José Miguel Delgado Barrado (Universidad de Jaén) durante un sopralluogo sul sito storico di La Tamujosa  (presso Aldeaquemada).
Il direttore scientifico del progetto internazionale, José Miguel Delgado Barrado (Universidad de Jaén) durante un sopralluogo sul sito storico di La Tamujosa (presso Aldeaquemada).

An international research work on geo-history in Spain

A few areas of countryside in the Jaén’s region, Andalucia, Spain, are hosting a fieldwork phase in the context of an international research project. The activity is funded by the Spanish Ministerio de Ciencia y Inovación under the ID PID2019-110225GB-I00. Though national in origin, the program is developed by an international network; it is called ProSiMo, an acronym standing for Proyecto de Sierra Morena and is led by Prof. José Miguel Delgado Barrado, of Jaén’s university.  

The current activity will take place between September 27th and October 4th, 2021 and is conducted by several scientific institutions from different countries, including Spain’s Laboratorio di Experimentación Espacial (UHUM 155 LabE2), la Red Cibeles (Estudios Interdisciplinares sobre Ciudades), both from the Universidad de Jaén, and an Italian scientific group led by prof. Annalisa D’Ascenzo, from the Laboratorio geocartografico “Giuseppe Caraci” (Roma Tre University) and CISGE and including prof. Gianluca Casagrande, from European University of Rome’s GREAL.  

The team at work includes historians, geographers, archaeologists and topographers, all involved in surveys and observations in areas of the Sierra Morena which were involved in a colonization process during the 18th century. More in detail, the study areas include, among others, the current sites of Montizón, Venta de los Santos, Aldeahermosa e Aldeaquemada. The goal of the project is to correlate data documented in the historic cartography to material elements as they can be recognized in present-day landscape. The data acquisition is mainly obtained from drones, fitted with sensors operating in the visible light as well as in the infrared. Their special configuration was developed by Italian company FlyToDiscover upon specifications by GREAL. The two aircraft are managed by two independent groups, one from Italy and one from Spain and daily yield a total of about 1,000 20Mpx and 12 Mpx digital images.  

Depending on operational needs, the photogrammetric “stripes” are directly georeferenced based on the internal positioning system of the drones or, rather, with additional association with ground control points established by topographers through high-accuracy GNSS devices.  

Initial processing of the acquired images has already started; 3D models and ortophotographs are being developed.  

The final goal of the current research is to contribute to a better understanding of how the ancient territory was structured and to allow comparison with different geographical contexts of the same age. With regard to within a framework of public history, ProSiMo aims to support the economy and identity of local communities by developing cultural and touristic itineraries with a special focus on historical geography.

Provisional 3D model of the Buenos Aires historical site (near Aldeaquemada) under development.

A moment of topographical surveys in the area of Venta de los Santos. Topographer José Manuel Zafra Valderrama (Universidad de Jaén) and geographer Annalisa D’Ascenzo (Roma Tre Unversity) on field.

ProSiMo scientific director, Prof. José Miguel Delgado Barrado (Universidad de Jaén) during an observation session in the area of La Tamujosa historical site (Aldeaquemada).

Gianluca Casagrande (European University of Rome) and Antonio Jesús Ortiz Villarejo during a drone-based aerial survey.


SONARCTC: Mission accomplished

Aug 16, 2021 The Polarquest2021 expedition has successfully completed its seafloor mapping programme today.

The Polarquest2021 expedition has successfully completed its seafloor mapping program today, with its last sonar scanning station in Bockfjorden at 79°5N, 13°4E. The crew, directed by sonar specialist Domink Pałgan and assisted by scientific coordinator Gianluca Casagrande, support engineer Kevin Monneron and environmental science student Elias Meier, started the activity upon leaving Ny Alesund on August 8th, when the deployed a NORBIT Subsea iWBM 200 kHz multibeam echosounder, installed on the right side of the stern platform with its GPS antennas placed on an A-frame above the navigation cockpit. The arrangement proved to be perfectly integrated with the vessel’s structure and internal systems.

The arrangement was developed by shore-team scientific advisor Dr. Aleksandra Kruss (Norbit and Gdansk University), skipper Giovanni Acquarone and technical coordinator Michael Struik.

The multibeam sensor was used to conduct two different types of expeditive surveys: a route scanning during transits along the western and north-western area of Spitsbergen and Nordaustlandet, and a systematic survey of ~25 km2 area Southwestern of Lady Franklinfjorden, Nordaustlandet, down to a distance of approximately 300 metres from glacier Søre Franklinbreen front, beyond the 80th parallel.

The activity allowed to produce new data in partially charted or completely uncharted regions of the archipelago, identifying potential corridors for navigation several points of very shallow waters: These will be reported and to update navigation charts. The scarce availability of such detailed data in the area appeared evident as single depth measurement indicated on nautical maps were often shown by the sonar to correspond to relatively wide and complex morphological structures on the seafloor (e.g. plateaus).

Observations in the Lady Franklinfjorden yielded new detailed data about the features of the sea floor in a previously virtually unknown site and will provide valuable information about the evolution of the local environment with regards to glaciers and their dynamics. Initial results show multiple rows of moraines (up to few meters high “ridges”) oriented parallel to the glacier front,  indicating the position of the glacier front in the geological past. Several lineaments engraved in the outcrops of the bedrock have also been mapped, which are probably associated with an advancing glacier,  showing how powerful ice can really be.

The mapping activity confirms the suitability of small vessels to perform seafloor mapping tasks in shallow seas and particularly in close proximity to coasts, which would prove extremely challenging for larger research vessels.

Throughout the survey process, the NORBIT equipment proved consistently reliable and flexible, with no system-related inconvenience throughout the program. Particularly during transit mapping, it often outperformed expectations in terms of scanning speed, operating at nominal survey and bottom detection capabilities up to 6.5 knots SoG in good sea/weather conditions. The sensor also turned out to show operational robustness in relatively rough sea conditions for long periods.

Drone mapping: activity completed – Polarquest 2021

After the last aerial survey over the Sallyhamna area in the afternoon of August 16th, Polarquest2021 UAV-based observation campaign has completed its activities. Preliminary data processing has started onboard S/Y Best Explorer as the boat is heading to its next leg at Ny-Ålesund scientific station. The drone mapping was specifically focused on expeditive geographical observations of relevant sites in Spitsbergen and Nordaustlandet, to provide information regarding different kinds of phenomena. Four sites were surveyed by GREAL/FTD tethered drone, yielding over 2000 images in the visible light (in Signehamna, Hansøya, Lågøya, Bockfjorden) and thermal infrared (Jotunkjeldene); a fifth survey was conducted by technical coordinator Michael Struik using a free-flying DJI Mavic mini drone over the Sallyhamna archaeological site. All surveys provided data for image-based modeling; final processing and analysis will take place at the European University of Rome (Italy) and the University of Gdansk (Poland) in the next months.  

The two missions over archaeological sites were conducted for geo-history-related scientific research purposes and to provide information regarding the current status of the areas for long-term monitoring. The flights over Hansøya and Lågøya were aimed to obtain sample-maps of the accumulation of driftwood and macroplastics on specific target sites of the shores of the two islands. Considering their different locations in the region, in particular their shore exposition, it is expected that the Hansøya flights will also provide valuable data about the geological character of the island and will produce a partial high-detail rendering of its topography.

The Bockfjorden flights allowed for a local mapping of two warm-water springs (~24°C) in the Jotunkjeldene area, associating visible-light images with thermal infrared frames, towards a more comprehensive description of this rare example of geothermal activity in Svalbard. The activity was a follow-up of a previous test-survey carried out during Polarquest2018. The survey was made possible by the use of a special drone configuration prepared by FlyToDiscover (Italy) upon GREAL’s specifications. High-detail, visible light and thermal infrared maps of the warm springs area will be prepared by Prof. Gianluca Casagrande at the European University of Rome and will be associated to a geological description of the area developed by Dr. Dominik Palgan (University of Gdansk).

FlyToDiscover for the third time in the Arctic with GREAL 

Yesterday UAV technical service provider FlyToDiscover delivered to GREAL, after the usual pre-departure preparations, the drone equipment that the laboratory will use during Polarquest2021, in the Arctic, these July and August.

The cooperation between the Italian company, based in Rome and led by Sandro Russello, and GREAL, has a long story and saw already joint work in the Arctic in 2018 (Svalbard) and 2020 (Greenland). The 2021 works plan draws from those previous experiences.

The drone prepared by FTD for use by GREAL is a customized version of the Phantom 4 Pro modified to effectively carry additional payload consisting in sensors. Furthermore, the drone can fly under tether in particular conditions, in order to prevent accidental fly-aways which can affect those machines in the specific research location. Although not designed for use in the Arctic, the popular drone proved an otherwise excellent survey machine in the workgroup’s previous research activities, provided that appropriate precautions are taken for its effective operation. 

The currently planned observation programme includes the collection of aerophotogrammetric data on some relevant sites as well as surveys with sensors for thermal and near infrared imagery.  

Sandro Russello (FlyToDiscover, on the left) and Gianluca Casagrande (GREAL)

Drone Phantom 4 Pro

Polarquest 2018 (image by Alwin Courcy)

Phantom 4 with additional NIR camera (image by G. Casagrande)

GREAL returns to the Arctic with Polarquest2021

Two years after its first operational participation to a research activity in the Svalbard islands, and with the data from a second expedition in Greenland still under analysis, GREAL will be back to the Arctic in a few weeks. In the new programme, GREAL will be involved in expedition Polarquest2021, onboard S/Y Best Explorer under Arctic skipper Giovanni Acquarone.

Like in 2018, the project will be led by scientific communicator Paola Catapano (CERN, Geneva) head of a 9-people international workgroup including researchers, technicians and communication experts. Best Explorer is an Italian-built 51-foot sail-yacht that completely circumnavigated the Arctic Ocean between 2012 and 2019 and conducted scientific work on behalf of ENEA. She will depart her homebase in Tromsø, northern continental Norway, on July 15th, and will reach Longyearbyen, Svalbard Islands, on the 24th. After a brief stop-over, the quite dense research activity programmes will begin, along the western and northern coasts of the archipelago.

The main goals of the expedition include a sonar mapping of the seafloor (conducted by the University of Gdansk, the European University of Rome and NORBIT Subsea), off the coasts of Nordaustlandet, the second largest of the Svalbard islands, whose eastern shores are entirely covered with ice from the Austfonna glacier.

Other research programmes onboard will call for microbiological analysis led by the Swiss Polar Institute, detection of gas bubbles in the “water column” (University of Geneva and ISMAR-CNR), observation of the general environmental status and mapping of macroplastic litter in remote areas by the use of flying drones (European University of Rome, Italian Geographical Society, University of Gdansk).

The international crew who will take part in the expedition includes:

Giovanni “Nanni” Acquarone (skipper, expedition leader, Italy), Nicoletta Martini (co-skipper, Italy), Paola Catapano (project leader, scientific communicator, Italy), Michael Struik (technical coordinator, drone pilot, video/photographer, The Netherlands), Gianluca Casagrande (scientific coordinator, onboard scientist, Italy), Christel Hassler (onboard scientist, Switzerland), Kevin Monneron (diver, onboard scientist, France), Dominik Pałgan (onboard scientist, Poland), Elias Christoph Meier (student, Austria). The go-crew will be assisted by a shore-team coordinated by Best Explorer veteran, Italian sailor Salvatore Magri.

Best Explorer is expected to return to Longyearbyen by August 22nd. At that time, the laboratories in the expedition’s network will commence analysis of the expedition data, a process which will take several months. Meanwhile, as in 2018, images and footage from the expedition will be used to prepare documentary materials for public dissemination of the expedition and its scientific results.

Polarquest2021 will develop in some of the areas which saw, in 1928, the ordeal of airship ITALIA, disappeared with six crew-members during its return from the North Pole. During this summer activity, while scanning the sea-floor with a multibeam sonar provided by Norwegian manufacturer NORBIT Subsea, the crew will pay attention to the possible presence, in the area, of any trace that could be linked to the lost expedition.

Polarquest2021 continues the conceptual line developed by Polarquest2018 and NANUQ2020, developing research and communication about the Arctic with the use of “lightweight” and “low-environmental impact” solutions. The formula proved scientifically valuable in the past experiences and can effectively complement other more traditional research techniques.


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Best-Explorer during a previous Arctic journey. The boat is registered in Genoa and features an all-steel hull. She is also equipped with a 80 Hp diesel engine. Picture by Stefano De Luigi.


Webinar: The NORGE: an airship towards the North Pole

On April 30th, a Webinar will focus on the technological aspects of airship NORGE’s transpolar flight. The event will take place in the framework of the Shadow of Norge project.


Associazione Dirigibili Archimede, in cooperation with GREAL, explores the technical aspects of NORGE’s exploration, and reflects on present-day perspectives on the use of LTA crafts.


Here is the poster of the event, scheduled at 5.30 pm on April 30, 2021.

To participate, click on this link

Webinar “Technologies and Museums for story-telling of places and exploration” in the “Shadow of Norge” project

The Shadow of Norge project successfully continues its international meetings program.


In the webinar “Technologies and Museums for story-telling of places and exploration” the focus is on the theme of technologies supporting the enhancement and spreading of knowledge about historical places, travel and exploration.



Here is the flyer of the event, scheduled at 9 am on April 27th, 2021.


To participate, click on this link.

WEBINAR at the University of Bodø on the 95th Anniversary of the NORGE expedition

The NORD University of Bodø (Norway) will host a scientific Webinar, open to the general public, on April 15th to remember the 95th anniversary of the expedition of airship NORGE.

The event will be chaired by Prof. Steinar Aas, Associate Professor of Contemporary History, and will see the participation of Norwegian and Italian scholars and institutional representatives.

The Webinar takes place almost exactly 95 years after the stop-over of airship NORGE in Ekeberg (Oslo), on its way to the Amundsen-Ellsworth-Nobile transpolar expedition.

The initiative has GREAL as official scientific partner and is developed within the “95 YEARS AGO: THE NORGE” international commemoration initative. 


Official programme at the following link:

Webinar: Flying towards the Great North through countries and cultures

09:00 Welcome – by professor Steinar Aas, Nord university. 09:15 – 10:00 «From dragons, via airplanes, to airships: Roald Amundsen and the aeronautics, 1909-1926”, by professor em.