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A Bird’s Eye View: Development of an Operational ARM Unmanned Aerial Capability for Atmospheric Research in Arctic Alaska


Unmanned aerial capabilities offer exciting new perspectives on the Arctic atmosphere and the US Department of Energy is working with partners to offer such perspectives to the research community.

Thorough understanding of aerosols, clouds, boundary layer structure and radiation is required to improve representation of the Arctic atmosphere in weather forecasting and climate models. To develop such understanding, new perspectives are needed to provide details on the vertical structure and spatial variability of key atmospheric properties, along with information over difficult-to-reach surfaces such as newly-forming sea ice. Over the last three years, the US Department of Energy (DOE) has supported various flight campaigns using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, also known as UAVs and drones) and tethered balloon systems (TBS) at Oliktok Point, Alaska. These activities have featured in-situ measurements of thermodynamic state, turbulence, radiation, aerosol properties, cloud microphysics and turbulent fluxes to provide a detailed characterization of the lower atmosphere. Alongside a suite of active and passive ground-based sensors and radiosondes deployed by the DOE Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) program through the third ARM Mobile Facility (AMF-3), these flight activities demonstrate the ability of such platforms to provide critically-needed information. In addition to providing new and unique datasets, lessons learned during initial campaigns have assisted toward the development of an exciting new community resource.

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