Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

August 2019

Figure 1: The NightFOX remote sensing UAS system is loaded onto the launcher for sampling a prescribed burn in Boulder County

Nighttime Fire Observations eXperiment (NightFOX) Update

Biomass burning produces major impacts on local and regional air quality and potentially plays an interactive role in climate change. A capable small, fixed-wing unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) can serve as an ideal platform for measurements of biomass burning emissions, plume distribution, fire extent and perimeter, and supporting meteorological data, especially at night when manned aircraft typically do not operate. The NOAA UASPO-funded Nighttime Fire Observations eXperiment (NightFOX) project aims to develop and deploy a sUAS observation system utilizing two modular and easily exchangeable payloads. One payload will provide in situ measurements of CO2, CO and fine- and coarse-mode aerosol size distributions in biomass burning plumes for characterization of fire combustion efficiency and emissions. A filter sampler will collect bulk aerosol samples for off-line composition analysis. The second payload will be flown over the fire to make remote sensing measurements of fire perimeter and fire radiative power using visible and short-, mid-, and long-wavelength IR observations. The multi-spectral remote sensing data will be used to provide sub-pixel information for comparison with satellite fire observations, and along with measured meteorological parameters, will be used to inform, test, and improve the WRF-SFIRE fire-atmosphere model.

On 31 July 2019, the NightFOX remote sensing payload onboard a Black Swift Technologies S2 UAS was used to monitor a prescribed burn in Boulder County, CO. The experiment was very successful, producing a fire map and demonstrating the capability and usefulness of the system (see associated figures and video). For the next step we plan to deploy the system to make measurements over real wildfires in the western US in August and September 2019.

This project is funded by the NOAA UAS Program Office, and includes a partnership between NOAA ESRL/CSD and the University of Colorado Boulder.

Nighttime Fire Observations eXperiment (NightFOX) Update Read More »

Chequamegon Heterogenous Ecosystem Energy-Balance Study (CHEESEHEAD’19)

The NOAA Air Resources Laboratory (ARL) Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division (ATDD), supported by the UAS Program Office, is participating in the Chequamegon Heterogenous Ecosystem Energy-balance Study Enabled by a High-Density Extensive Array of Detectors 2019 (CHEESEHEAD'19) campaign near Park Falls, Wisconsin (Figure 1). The aim of CHEESEHEAD'19 is to study interactions and feedbacks between the land surface and atmosphere and to improve how these interactions are represented in weather and climate models.

During three week-long campaigns in July, August, and September 2019, NOAA ATDD is operating two small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS). ATDD is using a DJI S-1000 (Figure 2) to obtain in-situ temperature and moisture measurements, along with land surface temperature measurements from a downward-pointing infrared camera, in the vicinity of 30-m (100-ft) towers installed in the CHEESEHEAD domain by partners from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) (Figure 3). These towers are instrumented with a myriad of instruments to sample different meteorological variables (e.g., temperature, moisture, and wind), as well as exchanges of heat and moisture between the land surface and overlying atmosphere. These tower measurements, combined with the sUAS measurements, are then used to estimate the variability in heat exchange in the region surrounding the tower. Within a ~ 500 x 500 m area surrounding the tower, there is significant variability in temperature, with differences on the order of 10 °C over this area (Figure 3).

In addition to the DJI S-1000, ATDD is also operating a Meteomatics SSE (Figure 4) during CHEESEHEAD. This platform is used for obtaining vertical profiles of temperature, moisture, and wind. In the example from the morning of 12 July, ATDD performed 4 flights adjacent to one of the NCAR meteorological towers. These flights show the growth and evolution of the atmospheric boundary layer (i.e., the lowest part of the atmosphere directly affected by the surface), as well as increase in near-surface moisture (Figure 5). During the August and September CHEESEHEAD campaigns, ATDD will fly the Meteomatics adjacent to the NOAA Global Monitoring Division (GMD) 447-m Park Falls tall tower, which is outfitted with an array of meteorological measurements at multiple heights, to evaluate wind speeds and wind directions derived from the Meteomatics.

Chequamegon Heterogenous Ecosystem Energy-Balance Study (CHEESEHEAD’19) Read More »

Fusion of LiDAR and Hyperspectral Imagery to Monitor Wetland Restoration Benefiting Salmon

Effective restoration of wetlands from anthropogenic stress is a critical research priority worldwide, and in the Pacific Northwest of the US there is a heightened relevance for supporting recovery of listed and endangered salmon. Wetland vegetation communities are especially important for shelter and as a source of invertebrate prey preferred by juvenile salmon during migration to the ocean. While many new restoration projects have commenced in recent years, often lacking is the means for evaluation of the restoration effectiveness. This evaluation includes quantification of the trajectory of physical systems and vegetation communities from initial states towards those more beneficial to desired outcomes (e.g. fish survival). Typical wetland/estuarine vegetation and topographic surveys are expensive, time-consuming, and restricted in spatial and temporal cover, difficulties that until now have limited evaluation of restoration trajectories toward recovery.

This project is supported by funding from the UAS Program Office, and includes a partnership between NOAA Fisheries, Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, RykaUAS, and the National Park Service, has developed a UAS for remote sensing of vegetation types using a 110-band imaging spectrometer (BaySpec OCI) flown on a DJI Matrice 600 hexacopter. We established a library of ground-truthed “spectral signatures” from wetland plant species and analytical routines allowing for output of categorized maps and statistical metrics. The next phase of the project entails integrating a LiDAR (RIEGL miniVUX-1UAV) instrument for determining topography-vegetation species relationships and to track landform changes as restoration projects evolve over time. Fusing the vegetation and topographic data offers a means for the rapid and comprehensive assessment of habitat metrics with minimal additional ground truthing, and provides methods to evaluate the effectiveness of management actions.

Fusion of LiDAR and Hyperspectral Imagery to Monitor Wetland Restoration Benefiting Salmon Read More »

High-Altitude AirCore-Glider System

The Global Monitoring Division (GMD) of NOAA’s Earth System Research Lab (ESRL) has revolutionized high-altitude trace gas sampling with the balloon-borne AirCore sampling system, which is capable of collecting samples up to altitudes of 30 km. Over 120 AirCores have been launched, recovered and analyzed for a variety of trace gases, providing profiles of more than 98% of the atmospheric column for carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and carbon monoxide (CO). These profiles provide valuable information for satellite validation and some of the only trace gas measurements available in the lower to mid-stratosphere unreachable by most aircraft. The current system is limited in profiling locations due to the feasibility of its recovery. The proposed study provides a critical path to make the sampling of 98% of the atmospheric column operational almost anywhere in the world by enabling a controlled UAS recovery of the AirCore sampling system and its accompanying in situ measurements package. GMD’s new project technology, under development provides a platform and an operational pathway for many other high accuracy measurements that would benefit from a dependable recovery system while at the same time providing the capability to reach altitudes that no manned aircraft are capable of reaching.

Double AirCore string using 3000 g weather balloon which includes two AirCores, AD-B transponder, balloon cutter, iMet radiosonde and parachute (Figure 1). The parachute automatically deploys at balloon burst at around 100,000 feet and falls to the ground as much as 70 miles downwind of the launch location. The AirCore captures the full profile of atmosphere which is later analyzed for CO2, CH4 and CO providing more than 100 independent measurements in the atmospheric column from 0 – 100,000 feet above sea level.

Figure 2 is 3D sketch of glider system for AirCore payload. This system carries two AirCores, AD-B transponder, balloon cutter, iMet radiosonde and parachute in a single payload that is designed to glide at roughly a 11:1 glide ratio from 100,000 feet enabling the AirCore package to be returned to the launch location normal weather conditions. This system is designed to carry slightly more than 12 lbs.

High-Altitude AirCore-Glider System Read More »

Montreal Protocol Violation and a Hawaiian Lava Flow…Using a Hexacopter to Replace a 100 ft. Sampling Tower

Air samples collected through an air-line supported 100 ft. above ground level on a tower at Cape Kumukahi, Hawaii, showed that a multi-decade long decline in CFC-11, a stratospheric ozone depleting gas controlled by the Montreal Protocol, is stalling. In a paper published in Nature, May 2018, NOAA Global Monitoring Division scientists show this disallowed CFC-11 production is coming from eastern China, 10,000 km upwind of Cape Kumukahi (Figure 1).
During recent eruption access to the Cape Kumukahi tower was destroyed by a 30 ft. high wall of hot lava which also destroyed the road, inundated the area, cut the power line and terminated sampling from the tower (Figure 2). In May 2018 subsequent air samples collected at the surface near the tower site were not of acceptable quality (Figure 3). By way of reference, ozone depleting gas concentrations are measured in parts per trillion (ppt) or better.

To visualize a ppt, here is an analogy. If you have a wall of silver dollars 6 ft. wide by 6 ft. tall, 200 miles long, there will be about one trillion silver dollars in that wall. Take one of those coins out of the wall and scratch it. NOAA Global Monitoring Division scientists will tell you where in that wall the coin came from, and on what side the coin was scratched, 99 times out of a 100. Some CFC-11 measurements require determining concentrations to a 10th of a ppt. Following the above analogy, the wall of silver dollars would be 2,000 miles long but the measurements would still pinpoint the scratched coin’s location, 99 out of 100 times.

In order to reestablish the Cape Kumukahi measurement program with the same sampling parameters as prior to the lava flow, it is necessary to sample air from near to the same location and altitude. A replacement tower may never be built as the cost for road, power line and tower would be in the million $ scale. As a possible replacement a tethered UAS hexacopter system has been developed to accomplish the same sampling parameters, at the same sight at a much reduced cost.

Specifically via UAS Program Office support, the Global Monitoring Division will use a tethered DJI 600M hexacopter to pull up an air sampling line to 100 ft. and hover while flasks are filled with a pump at the surface (Figure 4). The hexacopter will be powered by either batteries or powered by a generator operating on propane. The sampling line weighs 2.5 lbs. whereas the hexacopter can carry 6 lbs. Operations in winds up to 20 mph should be possible. Prior to deployment, the efficacy of the system and any possible contamination issues will be thoroughly vetted at the NIST Table Mesa test facility near Boulder, CO.

The hexacopter and tether system components will arrive in late September 2019 with field testing in November and modifications/sample QA/QC in December 2019. If all goes as planned, deployment to Hawaii will be in January/February 2020 with additional QA/QC and test operations at Cape Kumukahi. Assuming all operator training, safety, logistics QA/QC and permissions are completed, the system should become operational with weekly sampling beginning in March 2020. This resumption of measurements will be timely as China has agreed to comply with the Montreal Protocol immediately (Nature, May 2019). The NOAA Cape Kumukahi measurements will assist in verify the compliance.

This tethered hexacopter system will be relatively cheap for above ground surface sampling, is highly mobile and could be deployed globally and hence facilitating collecting air samples under many different scenarios in a variety of environments.

Montreal Protocol Violation and a Hawaiian Lava Flow…Using a Hexacopter to Replace a 100 ft. Sampling Tower Read More »