Friday, August 5, 2016

Science Takes Flight on the Tundra

Every field trip to Alaska brings with it recognition that scientists working on the NGEE Arctic project are both curious and innovative. Curiosity is certainly one of the hallmarks of the scientific process. Innovation is also a distinguishing feature of science, especially in areas where emerging technology can be used to gain new insights into ecosystem dynamics.

This week Sebastien Biraud from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory joined us on the Seward Peninsula to acquire high-resolution aerial imagery of our field sites using an Unmanned Aerial System or UAS. Sebastien works primarily with the AmeriFlux program. In that capacity he has instrumented a quad-copter with an optical camera and with sensors that enable other properties of the landscape to be quickly and efficiently captured.

Sebastien kindly agreed to join us for this trip and has secured all the necessary FAA permits and approvals to fly his UAS in Alaska. These flights were intended to evaluate capabilities of the aerial platform and to preliminarily characterize several of our field sites. The quad-copter was surprisingly quiet and fast, taking a complete set of measurements for our site in less than 15 to 20 minutes. It passed overhead with nothing more than a “hum” as it went about collecting data.

Sebastien has agreed to give one of our monthly NGEE Arctic Science Talks and update the team on his results and thoughts on future collaboration. The data products derived from the UAS flights should be interesting and applicable to our goals and objectives as we characterize sites on the Seward Peninsula and “upscale” our field data to larger and larger areas. This will be important as we continue to represent insights gained from our field studies in Earth System Models.