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Ken Vierra


NOAA Evaluates Using Drones to Map Coastline and Nearshore Waters

National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) scientists and their partners tested the utility of drone technology to map the coastline and nearshore waters of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The team evaluated the quality of land elevation and water depth data acquired by three different drones under a variety of conditions.

Several agencies, including NOAA, need land elevation and water depth data to inform management decisions about the coastal zone. However, many nearshore areas are difficult to access, or are remotely located, making them challenging and expensive to map with existing technologies. Photographs acquired by drones offer a potentially inexpensive and accurate method to fill this data gap at spatial resolutions that far exceed existing technologies. Though, more research is needed to identify optimal drone payloads and parameters, as well as post-processing workflows, before drone technology can be implemented more widely across NOAA.

During the mission, the team mapped six geographic areas in the Buck Island Reef National Monument and the East End Marine Park, collecting over 48,000 digital aerial photos using the DJI S900, 3DR Solo, and DJI Mavic drones. The researchers also collected independent reference data sets to verify the position of the photos and validate the elevations and depths derived from the drone software. The team plans to use data from the mission to develop standard operating procedures for this type of work across NOAA.

The two-year project (Fiscal Years 2017–2019) is funded by NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. The project team includes partners from NCCOS, Oregon State University, Wayne Wright Consulting, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, the National Park Service, and the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources.

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Photo of the HQ-20 hybrid quadrotor vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capable UAS deployment from the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette.

Development of a Hybrid Vertical-Take-Off-and-Landing Fixed Wing Aircraft for Shipboard Operations

In a parallel effort, PMEL is developing an aerosol payload for integration into the HQ-55 with instruments able to measure total particle number concentration, particle number size distribution, aerosol light absorption, solar irradiance and sky radiance, aerosol composition, and meteorological parameters. The payload is modular in design to allow for quick swapping in and out of the UAS so that multiple payloads, each with different measuring capabilities, can be used during a given observation period. A previous version of the payload was flown in the Arctic (Svalbard, Norway) in 2011 and 2015 to investigate climate impacts of soot pollution. Through that work, the aerosol payload transitioned to Technical Readiness Level 8, system demonstration in an operational environment.

First shipboard tests of the HQ-55 with the integrated aerosol payload are planned for Spring 2019 from a NOAA ship. As part of these flights, NOAA AOC pilots will continue training to fly the HQ-55. Through a collaboration between NOAA PMEL, the UAS Program Office, the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, and the SBIR Program Office, the ultimate goal is to provide a VTOL-FW UAS capability within NOAA for use by all line offices through the Aircraft Operations Center.

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Seahunter Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Flights In Northern Alaska

This week collaboration between ESRL PSD researchers Gijs de Boer (CIRES), Janet IntrieriChristopher Cox (CIRES), and Jackson Osborn (CIRES), and the University of Alaska – Fairbanks Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration (ACUASI) flight team resulted in extended operation of the SeaHunter unmanned aircraft system over the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea.  The aircraft, carrying the miniFlux payload developed jointly by NOAA PSD and the University of Colorado, set out on a mission from Kuparuk airport to 72.5⁰ N latitude to make important measurements of atmospheric winds and thermodynamic properties as well as map sea ice concentration and sea surface temperature.  These observations support development of understanding of the roles of the ocean and atmosphere in fall sea ice development.  This airborne activity, in conjunction with oceanic assets deployed as part of the U.S. Office of Naval Research Departmental Research Initiative Stratified Ocean Dynamics of the Arctic (SODA), (SODA), will help to shed light on upper oceanic stratification and its connection to winds and sea ice cover. This activity, supported by the NOAA UAS program office and the National Science Foundation, is continuing over the next two weeks as the sea ice continues its seasonal march towards the Alaskan coastline.

Credit for Photos: Jordan W. Murdock, Robert J. Edison

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