Drones hunting for black carbon

Drones hunting for black carbon

April 19, 2011

Drones from Norut will during a seven-week period map how long range transport of black carbon influences the melting of snow and ice in the Arctic.

Norut Tromsø has set up a “district office” in Ny-Ålesund, which will remain open until May 16. And there is a good reason why scientists and engineers will experience spring in the far north this year.

The scientists want to learn more about the degree to which long range transport of black carbon influences the reflection of the sun and consequently the speed of melting of snow and ice in the Arctic. Black carbon can originate for instance from industry, forest fires and volcanic eruptions in various countries and be transported far northwards by wind or precipitation.

 

Measuring reflection

Norut’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are equipped with a spectrometer, an instrument used to measure the amount of light sent down towards the surface of the ice or snow and how much light is reflected back. The instrument can also measure the size of particles and provide information about how these change during the melting season.

The drones will also be equipped with an onboard camera and they will carry out meteorological measurements of temperature, humidity and air pressure which will be analysed along with the data from the spectrometer.

The research operation in Svalbard is part of the project Variability of Albedo Using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VAUUAV).

Norut will not be alone at 79 °N during the seven-week period. Other participants from Norway are the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU) and the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI), which will among other things take snow samples from the ground which may be combined with the measurements from the air.

Drones from several countries

Research groups from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in USA and the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) in Russia are also participating with drones for the research operation.

The drones from USA are somewhat smaller than Norut’s ones, and are equipped with onboard particle sampling instruments. The American aircraft collect particles which are analysed continuously and the results are conveyed to the ground while the drones are still in the air.

The Russian participants have small electronic drones equipped with meteorological sensors and video systems which can store continuous image mosaics of the snow, sea ice and icebergs.

A team of scientists from Germany and Italy is also in Ny-Ålesund and will participate with small manned aircraft for just a week of the operation.

Follow the project blog on NILU’s website.

Wide variety of uses

Norut’s UAVs can be used for many different purposes, including:

 

  • Climate research and environmental surveillance
  • Oil spills
  • Measurement of snow and ice reservoirs
  • Control of power lines
  • Safety regarding shipping traffic
  • Search and rescue operations
  • Measurement of ash particle concentrations
  • Measurement of radioactivity

 

But the focus this spring is on black carbon and the melting of snow and ice.