News

Multi-spectral Imaging of Polar Bears at Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat

Article Provided By: Erin Moreland

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During the first week of April, NOAA researchers from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Marine Mammal Laboratory (MML) collected multi-spectral imagery of polar bears at the Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat in Ontario, Canada. Color, infrared, and ultraviolet photos were collected using two APH-28 hexacopters. This ongoing work was partially funded by the UAS Program. One platform carried the FLIR Duo Pro R camera and the other carried a new UV payload (developed by Ben Hou at MML) paired with a color camera and laser altimeter. This imagery will help improve remote sensing of bears during aerial surveys for ice-associated seals and polar bears on the sea ice habitat of the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. The team also collected thermal data of resting bears and bears coming out of cold water to see how these behaviors affect the thermal signature detected from the airborne cameras. Multi-spectral imagery of bears on ice, in open snow fields, and near rocks will be used in the development of an automated bear detection model in support of upcoming international survey efforts of the Beaufort Sea for ice seals and polar bears.  NOAA’s Canadian partners primary focus is bears, so this work also helps build that partnership so we can get more meaningful seal data from the full Beaufort surveys. Polar bears are listed as threatened under the ESA (as are ringed and bearded seals).

DRONE TRAINS ITS EYES ON FLOOD WATERS TO IMPROVE FORECASTS

ARTICLE BY MONICA ALLEN, NOAA COMMUNICATIONS, AND PHOTOS / FIGURES FROM ROBERT MOORHEAD, DIRECTOR OF NORTHERN GULF INSTITUTE

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As the Yalobusha River rose around Greenwood, Mississippi, during a major rainstorm in late February, scientists from the Northern Gulf Institute at Mississippi State University deployed a small unmanned plane that took high-resolution images of rising waters and beamed them back in real time to NOAA weather forecasters.

We were able to see the water as it rose over the course of two days, which helped our office confirm when the crest had been reached,” said Dr. Suzanne Van Cooten, hydrologist-in-charge at the NOAA National Weather Service Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center in Slidell, Louisiana. “This visual information really helps us improve our forecasts so we can provide critical information to those in an affected area.” Scientists piloted the 8.5-foot long by 14-foot wide Griffon Outlaw G2E unmanned plane from MSU’s Raspet Flight Research Center in Starkville, Mississippi, equipped with the Overwatch Imaging TK-5 payload -- a system able to take, process and transmit images with 6-inch resolution when flying 4,500 feet above the ground.

The images (Figures 1 and 2) typical real time images for NOAA and FEMA were transmitted to the High Performance Computing Collaboratory at MSU, and could be immediately downloaded by NOAA’s NWS Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center. NOAA forecasters used the information to refine forecasts that are vital to local emergency managers, the public and the area’s farmers.

In a parallel effort, the data was also downloaded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 4 for real-time examination and assessment. “Aerial imagery and other data made available from unmanned aircraft systems is increasingly showing its value as a resource to provide our local, state, and federal emergency managers with actionable information needed to most effectively perform their duties,” said Travis Potter, Remote Sensing and UAS Coordinator for FEMA 4. “The information provided from this operation could be extremely useful toward helping folks on the ground to efficiently distribute resources, manage evacuations, and aid in future recovery efforts.”

Once the plane landed, scientists retrieved higher resolution images stored onboard that can now be used to improve flood prediction models.

“We’re really pleased with the results of this fixed-wing unmanned aircraft system,” said Capt. Philip Hall, director of NOAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program. “The unmanned aircraft and payload shows great potential to provide forecasters with valuable data to improve forecasts as well as flood models. We look forward to continuing to work with the Northern Gulf Institute and NOAA’s National Weather Service to transition the technology into operations."

NOAA Scientists and Engineers Conduct sUAS Test in Florida

ARTICLE AND FIGURES PROVIDED BY: BRUCE BAKER

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On March 4-6, a team of nine NOAA scientists and engineers gathered at Avon Park, a U.S. Air Force (USAF) test range north of Sebring, Florida, to conduct first-of-a-kind tests on two small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS). The team consisted of personnel from the Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division (ATDD) of NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory, NOAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office (UASPO), and NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) Aircraft Operations Center (AOC). The two sUASs being tested were recently acquired by ATDD. They are a Meteomatics Meteodrone Severe Storms Edition (SSE), which performs vertical takeoffs and landings, and a BlackSwift Technologies S2 fixed-wing aircraft similar in design to an airplane.

The tests were very successful. Over the three-day testing period, the team performed over a dozen flights with the Meteodrone and six flights with the S2. The Meteodrone was flown up to a maximum altitude of 950 m above ground level (AGL), whereas the S2 reached 1200 m AGL during one of its flights. A ground-based radar system, integrated with geospatial software, was deployed in an attempt to determine its capability to mitigate potential threats to these sUAS(s) by targets within the airspace (e.g., traditional airplanes, other sUAS(s), hot air balloons, birds, etc.). During all tests, the ground-based radar system detected both the Meteodrone and S2, as well as other air traffic in the area. To further evaluate the ground-based radar system, on 5 March a NOAA Twin Otter aircraft performed multiple flyovers of the site, and the ground-based radar system detected this aircraft as well. Additionally, Meteodrone data were used to generate analyses of temperature, moisture, and wind fields in near real-time using the Meteomatics software package.

Since Avon Park is a USAF bombing range which NOAA AOC has utilized to test both full-size and drone systems in the past, its airspace is not subject to the same Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) restrictions imposed on the national airspace system. The relaxed limitations enabled the team to fly both aircraft to their respective maximum flight altitudes. Knowing each aircraft’s upper limit and the point at which the operator would lose visual line of sight were key to performing safer, higher flights in the future. Essentially, this exercise enabled the team to measure the same kind of parameters used by air traffic controllers.

Taking measurements of temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and pressure (collectively known as vertical profiles) with a copter and fixed-wing aircraft at such a high altitude hasn’t been done before, so scientists were unsure what to expect. Historical data is sparse, so there has always been a large gap in knowing what is happening with the thermodynamics and kinematics of the atmosphere (e.g. the transformations responsible for weather and climate). Flying the sUAS(s) to higher altitudes enables scientists to design increasingly useful experiments to study the boundary layer – the lowest few kilometers of the atmosphere where we live, where weather occurs, and where ARL focuses its research.

NOAA’s AOC and UASPO are working to obtain Certificates of Authorization (COA) from the FAA to fly up to 10,000 ft. Once COAs are obtained, both of ATDD’s sUAS(s) will be used for vertical profile sampling within the lowest few kilometers of the atmosphere. Higher altitude, more frequent measurements will greatly enhance operational weather forecasting by the National Weather Service (NWS) through analysis of the observations, and inclusion of the data into numerical weather prediction models. These data will also help refine future field intensive studies of the boundary layer. The test at Avon Park paves the way toward eventually having autonomou

ARL, UASPO, and AOC Collaboration Set to Perform Groundbreaking Field Study

Article/Figures Provided By: Bruce Baker and Ed Dumas

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On March 4-6, a team of nine NOAA scientists and engineers will gather at Avon Park, a U.S. Air Force (USAF) test range north of Sebring, Florida, to conduct first-of-a-kind tests on two small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS).  The team consists of personnel from the Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division (ATDD) of NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory, NOAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office (UASPO), and NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) Aircraft Operations Center (AOC). The two sUASs being tested are recent acquisitions by ATDD. They include a Meteomatics Meteodrone Severe Storms Edition (SSE), which performs a vertical takeoff and landing (Figure 1), and a BlackSwift Technologies S2 fixed-wing aircraft similar in design to an airplane (Figure 2).

Since Avon Park is a USAF bombing range, which NOAA AOC has utilized to test both full-size and drone systems in the past, its airspace is not subject to the same Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) restrictions imposed on the national airspace system. The relaxed limitations will enable the team to fly both sUAS(s) to their respective maximum flight altitudes of approximately 5,000 feet above ground level (AGL). Knowing each aircraft’s upper limit and the point at which the operator will lose visual line of sight are key to performing safer, higher flights in the future. During testing, the team will also employ a ground-based radar system integrated with geospatial software in an attempt to determine its capability to mitigate potential threats to the sUAS(s) by targets within the airspace (e.g. traditional airplanes, other sUAS(s), hot air balloons, birds, etc.). Essentially, this exercise will enable the team to measure the same kind of parameters used by air traffic controllers.

Taking measurements of temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and pressure (collectively known as vertical profiles) with a copter and fixed-wing aircraft at such a high altitude represents a new frontier for atmospheric observations and is currently being done operationally in only a few locations around the globe. Historical data is sparse, so there has always been a large gap in knowing what is happening with the thermodynamics of the atmosphere (e.g. the transformations responsible for weather and climate).  Flying the UAS(s) to higher altitudes will enable scientists to design increasingly useful experiments for the boundary layer - the layer of the atmosphere where we live, where weather happens, and where ARL focuses its research.

NOAA’s AOC and UASPO are working toward obtaining Certificates of Authorization (COA) from the FAA to fly up to 10,000 ft.  Once COAs are obtained, both of ATDD’s sUAS(s) will be used for vertical profile sampling within the lowest 1 km of the atmosphere. Higher altitude, more frequent measurements will greatly enhance operational weather forecasting by the National Weather Service (NWS), as well as future field intensive studies of the boundary layer.  The upcoming field test is paving the way toward eventually having autonomous vertical profiles occurring any time of the day in different locations around the U.S. Currently, there are only about 100 NWS weather forecast offices in the U.S. that perform vertical profiling. They all utilize weather balloons for this twice-daily analysis. ATDD plans to start working with its closest forecast office, in Morristown, Tennessee, to determine how more frequent, more localized vertical profiles help to improved forecasting. ATDD is also continuing to assess new technologies and instrumentation capable of utilization by UAS(s).

High Accuracy Trace Gas Measurements from a Lightweight UAV

Article/Figure Provided By: Colm Sweeney and Pieter Tans

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Recently, numerous studies have contested the global impact of fugitive emissions from oil and gas operations on the methane budget.  Consequently, precise quantification of gas leaks is needed to better constrain the total methane burden from this source.  In the past, high precision insitu analyzers mounted in a research aircraft have been used to circle the suspected leak and quantify the plume.  While this is a robust method, it is costly, and missions cannot be deployed quickly.  Quick deployment is needed because leaks can be transient, variable, and a huge safety hazard.  A lightweight UAV is uniquely suited to both fly through a plume generated by a leak, and deploy quickly at little cost. However, the UAV platform is too small to carry the 70-pound analysis system used on a plane.

NOAA GMD has developed a unique sampling system, called the Active AirCore, in which a pump compresses air into a 100-meter long, small diameter tube at a constant flow rate. This long tube acts as an “atmospheric tape recorder” by storing the sample stream in the long tube. When the sample is analyzed, the data is a “play back” of the air the UAV flew through while in flight.  The sampler can be removed from the UAV, and immediately analyzed using an ultra-high precision trace gas analyzer like those used on aircraft.  This new sampling system provides the same level of accuracy as an analyzer mounted on a larger aircraft, but is light enough to be flown on a UAV.  Because the measurements are done in a van at the flight location, data analysis and quantification of the leak is near-real time.  This near-real-time analysis allows highly flammable natural gas leaks to be quickly identified and quantified providing information that will help evaluate the safety and potential economic losses at an individual oil and gas production site.

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