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November 2019

Observing Atmospheric Fluxes with UAS (miniFlux)

Understanding the transfer of heat and momentum between different layers of the atmosphere and the underlying surface is critical for improving our weather and climate forecasts. Scientists at NOAA’s Physical Sciences Division (PSD) and the University of Colorado’s (CU) Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) are working to develop, test, calibrate and deploy the compact, lightweight (1.2 lbs) miniFlux sensor system (Figure 1). This miniaturized instrument, which is supported by NOAA’s UAS Program Office, can reliably collect these measurements from unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).  Deploying this lightweight package on UAS over difficult-to-sample regions of the Earth can provide perspectives on these important processes in ways not previously possible.

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RGB colorized point cloud obtained from two simultaneous photos of the same area taken from two drones hovering over the same coral reef area at Buck Island

sUAS Bathymetric Mapping for Featureless Bottom Topography Using Naturally Occurring Structure Light

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) with Flash Structure from Motion (SfM) capabilities are of great interest as a supplement to existing technologies for marine debris detection, reef restoration, and ship-grounding impacts. Coastal storms and geo-hazards, including hurricanes, nor’easters and tsunamis, can deposit marine debris over vast areas, threatening marine ecosystems and navigation safety. Identification and geolocation of the debris is necessary to direct removal efforts, but can be a challenging and expensive task. These events can also cause significant damage to coral reef communities and even dislodge corals. Restoration triage to “replant” the damaged corals is time critical. Additionally, ship-grounding incidents caused by coastal storms require accurate and rapid information to conduct damage assessment and recovery efforts. The available geospatial information collected after Hurricanes Maria and Irma, which heavily impacted the U.S. Caribbean and beyond, clearly indicate the limitations of current coastal intelligence abilities to addressing disaster impacts in the littoral zone.

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Developing DJI M210RTK Shipboard Operations

The NOAA Remote Sensing Division (RSD) and Hydrographic Services Division (HSD) successfully completed Phase One of a UAS Program Office-funded project to develop the capability and approved documented operating procedures to safely launch and recover an M210RTK UAS from NOAA ships and small boats manually.

The establishment of a fully operational M210RTK system, trained UAS and vessel operators, operations protocols, data management and integration strategy, will allow unmanned rotary wing aerial assets to acquire data supporting NGS roadmap and OCS strategic goals that align with elements of the NOS Program, Line Office and Agency strategic plans. This project furthers the NOS “Safe and Efficient Transportation and Commerce” Priority by exploring and optimizing the use emerging airborne technology for coastal mapping and obstruction investigation surveys and the “Preparedness and Risk Reduction” Priority by investigating the use of UAS as a tool for rapid deployment damage assessment imagery.

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Migrating gray whales photographed from a manned aircraft (MMPA Permit #: 19091-01) showing the feasibility of counting these large

Marine Mammal Monitoring Surveys Using a Hybrid Fixed-Wing UAS

Gathering data on the size of marine wildlife populations and better understanding the risks human activities pose to these populations are core responsibilities of NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center / Marine Mammal and Turtle Division. In this study, supported by the UAS Program Office, scientists will be evaluating the use of a fixed-wing UAS platform with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL; Firefly6 Pro, BirdsEyeView Aerobotics, Inc.).

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