Probing the atmosphere with drones
Drones are unmanned aircraft commanded remotely by a pilot on the ground. They were created initially for military purposes but are now being used for a range of other applications, such as providing early warning of forest fires, for search and rescue missions, and for scientific research, including studying the atmosphere.
Drones are ideally suited for atmospheric research as they are able to sample up to a few km in height and they can pretty much go wherever the operator wants them to go.
In fact, until recently the only thing holding back scientists has been that more advanced sensors were too big to fit on a mini drone.
But now with increasing miniaturisation, researchers from the French national weather service, Météo-France, have been able to fit a number of tiny new sensors onto mini drones to monitor aerosols (tiny solid or liquid particles) in the atmosphere, and track winds in 3D.
After a recent successful three day trial in France, the drones’ next flight will be over the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, in March 2015, as part of the Bacchus project, which is a European project to improve our understanding of the effects of aerosols on clouds and climate.
Check out this video (French only) showing the testing of the drones at the Centre de recherches atmosphériques (CRA) du Laboratoire d’Aérologie de l’Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées at Lannemezan, France.