First Test Flights of the High-altitude Operational Return Unmanned System (HORUS) for AirCore

Article and Figures Provided By: Bianca Baier (GMD)

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AirCores are routinely launched near Boulder, Colorado using a 6.6-pound balloon with a parachute-based recovery. However, similar to routine weather balloon launches, the recovery of the AirCore and accompanying scientific instrumentation is not always easy.  AirCore recovery sites can be nearly 80 kilometers (50 miles) away from the launch site. Recovery sites depend on local winds and are limited to vehicle-accessible locations with few trees, lakes, and housing or commercial development. To increase options for AirCore sampling locations, NOAA/GMD is teaming up with UAS designers at Arizona State University and developers at Delta Zee Solutions, LLC to construct the “High-altitude Operational Return Unmanned System” (HORUS).

UAS-based Mapping of Riverine Habitats to Inform Management of Endangered Chinook Salmon

Article and Figures Provided By: Lee R. Harrison (SWFSC)

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River systems provide the physical template for aquatic organisms, including endangered salmonids, and characterizing riverine habitat structure is crucial for species management and conservation. Traditionally, salmon habitat data has been collected over short river segments using ground survey methods, but there is a need to characterize habitat in high resolution at larger spatial scales. Advances in remote sensing from manned aircraft have greatly improved the ability for habitat mapping at larger scales but these approaches may not capture fine-scale habitat features. Now scientists at NOAA and the USGS are working to determine if imagery collected from unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) can be used to help provide quantitative habitat data at ecologically-relevant scales.

Rapid Detection of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) in Waters Nearshore Using sUAS

Article and Figure Provided by: Rick Stumpf (NOS)

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Several algal blooms around the U.S. produce biotoxins that pose significant risks to human health and marine life.  In recent years, these harmful algal blooms (HABs) have caused unprecedented impacts on coastal communities and the tourism, recreation and fishing businesses that support them. In Florida, for example, a recent (2017-2018) “red tide” lasted more than a year and ultimately impacted most of the Florida coast line, creating devastating impacts for fishermen, tourism, and local (beachside) businesses.

Using sUAS (small Unmanned Aircraft Systems) deployed with HAB sensors, we are working to develop and demonstrate a rapid, cost-effective response capability in order to more quickly and accurately know the location of bloom patches.

Developing a UAS-Based Approach for Surveying Northern Fur Seals in Alaska

Article and Figures Provided By: Katie Sweeney (AFSC/MML)

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The northern fur seal population in the Pribilof Islands, Alaska has experienced drastic declines. In 2018, St. Paul Island fur seals reached the lowest pup production levels since 1915, while pup abundance in the Pribilof Islands has declined 50 percent since 1998. It is imperative that NOAA Fisheries continue to monitor and document this decline to identify potential threats to recovery and inform management decisions. Currently, population estimates are derived from biennial pup abundance surveys and are conducted on the ground, requiring the participation of more than 20 researchers and support staff for up to 21 days. This method is costly, labor intensive, and involves disturbing the entire population of fur seals on both islands—an estimated 100,000 pups and many more adults and juveniles.

In partnership with the UAS Program Office, NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Marine Mammal Laboratory (MML) is working towards developing a survey approach using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research and Operations in Tropical Cyclones (sUAS-ROTC)

Article Provided by: Joseph J. Cione (AOML/HRD)

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In recent years, an increasing number of hurricanes have impacted the United States with devastating results, and many experts expect this trend to continue in the years ahead. In the wake of powerful recent Hurricanes Sandy (2012), Harvey (2017), Irma (2017) Maria (2017) and Michael (2018), NOAA is working to provide improved and highly accurate hurricane-related forecasts over a longer time window prior to landfall. NOAA therefore has taken on the challenge to develop a program that will require applying the best science and technology available to improve hurricane prediction without placing NOAA personnel at increased risk. Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are an emerging technology in the civil and research arena capable of responding to this need.

NOAA is testing and developing three small UAS platforms with the ultimate goal of flying them into the boundary layer environment — i.e. where the hurricane meets the surface of the ocean — of mature hurricanes. The first effort is the OAR-funded project with AREA-I Inc., while the other two of these efforts (with Black Swift Industries and Barron Associates) are being funded through NOAA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program.