The California Energy Commission is funding a research effort named CAPPS, short for California AUAV Air Pollution Profiling Study. CAPPS will use autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (AUAVs) to gather meteorological data as the aircraft fly through clouds over Southern California. The goal is to study smog and its consequences as well as better understand the sources of air pollution. The first flights started in April 2008 and data collection will continue until January 2009. But read more...
You can see above technicians preparing a CAPPS autonomous unmanned aircraft for a flight at Edwards Air Force Base. (Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography) Here is a link to
a larger version of this photo.
This research work is being led at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego by Professor V. (Ram) Ramanathan, who already used AUAVs over the Maldives in 2006.
You can see above the UAV fleet at Hanimaadhoo Airport, Hanimaadhoo Island in the Maldives, during the Maldives Autonomous UAV Campaign (MAC) in March 2006 (Credit: V. Ramanathan). These UAVs are called Manta and are built by Tucson based Advanced Ceramics Research, Inc. (ACR).
For more information about this earlier research project, you can read "Western Pacific Autonomous UAV Campaign" (PDF format, 28 pages, 14.46 MB).
Now, let's go back to the CAPPS project. "In CAPPS, the Scripps team hopes to determine how much of Southern California's air pollution comes from Asia, Mexico and from regions north of California. Scientists routinely observe aerosol masses traveling across the Pacific Ocean to the West Coast but are still trying to understand the effects of that pollution. The imported smog is only one of several sources of atmospheric aerosols in Southern California, joining local auto and industrial emissions and smoke from wildfires. Researchers have seen evidence that this air pollution can mix with falling snow and accelerate its melt when sunlight hits and warms the 'dirty' snow in mountain watersheds."
Here is a quote from Ramanathan. "Black carbon and ozone are two major contributors to global warming, next to carbon dioxide. We hope to document the vertical profiles of black carbon and ozone and their climate warming effects for the first time over California, and this data will likely help California reduce its global warming commitment."
The CAPPS project will gather data throughout 2008 and until next year. But can their UAVs fly wherever the researchers want? "The aircraft will profile atmospheric conditions at altitudes ranging between 2,000 and 12,000 feet. Because of Federal Aviation Administration regulations that prohibit unmanned aircraft from flying in public airspace, the flight paths will be limited to military airspace, which is exempted from FAA rules. The researchers hope to conduct the flights at least once a month or as often as every two weeks. The Scripps team also hopes to gather data on a situational basis such as during wildfires."
Finally, if you want to know how measurement instruments are miniaturized to fit in a UAV, please read this presentation about CAPPS (PDF format, 9 pages, 528 KB).
Sources: Scripps Institution of Oceanography News, May 5, 2008; and various websites
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