Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Flying kites on the tundra

Scientists can be creative! A perfect example of this creativity reveals itself when the NGEE Arctic project needs to collect aerial images of ice-rich polygons on the Barrow Environmental Observatory. We could rely on high-resolution pictures from aircraft, but given the small area of our intensive site that would be expensive. Unfortunately, the resolution of satellite imagery is too coarse. Why not just hang a camera from a kite? We saw this used quite effectively last year by Craig Tweedie and his students from UTEP, so we thought we'd give it a try!  That's what Baptiste Dafflon and Craig Ulrich (both from LBNL) did yesterday after testing the concept several weeks ago in California.

Baptiste and Craig have conducted geophysical surveys on the BEO now for two years. The goal has been not only to understand sub-surface properties like ice content and size and distribution of ice wedges, but also to relate those characteristics to surface properties including topography and the fraction of the landscape seasonally inundated by water. The team needed, however, some way to correlate patterns of inundation to variation in sub-surface properties. The kite seemed like a worthwhile approach to try. It is too early to comment on the overall utility of the idea, but an initial look at the aerial images suggests that the quality of pictures makes this kite-based approach a reasonable one for our purposes.


Baptiste and Craig, along with others on the NGEE Arctic team, plan to replace the camera with a spectrometer in hopes of using spectral signatures to identify water distribution and landscape patterns of inundation throughout the season. Then it will be possible to begin drawing correlations between surface and subsurface characteristics and using those insights to improve multi-scale models of terrestrial ecosystems.