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


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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.

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


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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.

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


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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.

Forecast for Harmful Algal Blooms in Lake Erie 2019


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The UAS Program Office is supporting Dr. Stumpf, (NOAA/National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), on a project where the goal is to use sUAS (small Unmanned Aircraft Systems) to deploy harmful algal bloom (HAB) sensors and to develop and demonstrate a rapid, cost-effective response capability in order to more quickly and accurately know the location of bloom patches. Advancing this real-time detection capability would enable states (especially Florida) and counties to more effectively deploy and focus their limited sampling resources. Furthermore, this capability would enhance NOAA’s HAB forecasting capability so as to be able to provide improved warnings to the public, and therein increase public safety and reduce economic impact. This capability, once demonstrated, will be transitioned to states for integration into their HAB monitoring programs. Improved HAB forecasting is identified as an agency priority in the NOAA Next Generation Strategic Plan Objective - Improved coastal water quality supporting human health and coastal ecosystem services and as a Line Office mission goal in NOS Priorities Roadmap, under “Threats to human health and safety from ecological hazards”.

On July 11, 2019 Dr. Richard Stumpf attended a Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Workshop (“Forecast for Harmful Algal Blooms in Lake Erie 2019”) hosted by Ohio Sea Grant & Stone Lab. At the workshop, he presented the seasonal forecast for the HAB in western Lake Erie, developed by NOAA and its research partners.  Western Lake Erie will experience a significant harmful algal bloom (HAB) this summer, expected to measure 7.5 on the severity index, but could range between 6 and 9.  An index above 5 indicates blooms having greater impact. The severity index is based on bloom's biomass – the amount of algae – over a sustained period. The largest blooms occurred in 2011, with a severity index of 10, and 2015, at 10.5. Last year’s bloom had a severity index of 3.6, while 2017's was 8.0.

Lake Erie blooms consist of cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae that are capable of producing the liver toxin microcystin that poses a risk to human and wildlife health. Such blooms may result in higher costs for cities and local governments that need to treat drinking water, prevent people from enjoying fishing, swimming, boating and visiting the shoreline, and harm the region’s vital summer tourism economy. These effects will vary in location and severity due to winds that may concentrate or dissipate the bloom.

“Communities along Lake Erie rely upon clean, healthy water to support their community’s well-being and economic livelihoods,” said Nicole LeBoeuf, acting director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service. “This forecast provides timely and trusted science-based information to water managers and public health officials so they can better anticipate blooms, mitigate impacts and reduce future outbreaks.”

This year, the lake temperature has remained relatively cool due to the higher-than-average rainfall in the region, so the bloom is not expected to start until late July when the water temperature reaches 65 to 70 degrees F. This contrasts with 2018, when exceptionally warm weather at the beginning of June caused an early start. Calm winds in July, especially in western Lake Erie, tend to allow the algal toxins t

Operational Evaluation of Planck Aerosystems "Shearwater" Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) in the Santa Barbara Channel July 29 - 31, 2019


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Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary CINMS) / Collaborative Center for Unmanned Technologies (CCUT) staff supported the field testing of a Planck Aerosystems "Shearwater" sUAS aboard the NOAA Research Vessel Shearwater (Figure: 1) and the salvage vessel Danny C (Figure: 2). in the Santa Barbara Channel July 29 - 31, 2019. The project was funded by the NOAA OAR UAS Program Office. In participation were LTJG Nicole Chappelle from the NOAA OMAO Aircraft Operations Center Co-PI Alan Jaeger from the US Navy and project PI Todd Jacobs of ONMS CCUT.  The goals of the project are to evaluate the Shearwater UAS's capabilities to safely and reliably take off and land autonomously from moving vessels and to be operated in a tethered mode, where it can stay in the air for extended periods. The Shearwater UAS was able to successfully take off and land autonomously in relative wind up to 21 knots and from the R/V Shearwater at speeds up to 18 knots. The tethered mode was also successfully demonstrated, but at lower wind speeds.

The autonomous take-off and landing capability is thought to reduce risk and will require less operator proficiency when operating from boats. The tethered mode may eventually support incidents such as whale disentanglements and could serve as a data or communications relay during oil spills or other emergency operations.

The next phase of the project is to support NMFS and NOS by providing aerial imagery to manta ray tagging teams ~100 miles offshore at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary from August 5 - 8, 2019.

A third phase of testing and Shearwater UAS operator training is planned for December 16 - 20 to be conducted in concert with the annual whale disentanglement training in Maui, HI, which will be hosted by project co-PI Ed Lyman at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

These evaluations will be reviewed by the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS),  (CCUT) and OAR UASPO and will be used to determine whether one or more Planck Aerosystems "Shearwater" UAS will be purchased by the agency and transitioned to routine operations.