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Atmospheric sampling on ascension island using multirotor UAVs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Colin Greatwood
  • Thomas S. Richardson
  • Jim Freer
  • Rick M. Thomas
  • A. Rob Mackenzie
  • Rebecca Brownlow
  • David Lowry
  • Rebecca E. Fisher
  • Euan G. Nisbet
Original languageEnglish
Article number1189
Issue number6
Early online date23 May 2017
DateAccepted/In press - 15 May 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 23 May 2017
DatePublished (current) - 1 Jun 2017


As part of an NERC-funded project investigating the southern methane anomaly, a team drawn from the Universities of Bristol, Birmingham and Royal Holloway flew small unmanned multirotors from Ascension Island for the purposes of atmospheric sampling. The objective of these flights was to collect air samples from below, within and above a persistent atmospheric feature, the Trade Wind Inversion, in order to characterise methane concentrations and their isotopic composition. These parameters allow the methane in the different air masses to be tied to different source locations, which can be further analysed using back trajectory atmospheric computer modelling. This paper describes the campaigns as a whole including the design of the bespoke eight rotor aircraft and the operational requirements that were needed in order to collect targeted multiple air samples up to 2.5 km above the ground level in under 20 min of flight time. Key features of the system described include real-time feedback of temperature and humidity, as well as system health data. This enabled detailed targeting of the air sampling design to be realised and planned during the flight mission on the downward leg, a capability that is invaluable in the presence of uncertainty in the pre-flight meteorological data. Environmental considerations are also outlined together with the flight plans that were created in order to rapidly fly vertical transects of the atmosphere whilst encountering changing wind conditions. Two sampling campaigns were carried out in September 2014 and July 2015 with over one hundred high altitude sampling missions. Lessons learned are given throughout, including those associated with operating in the testing environment encountered on Ascension Island.

    Research areas

  • Ascension Island, Atmospheric sampling, BVLOS, Methane, Multirotor, SUAS, UAV

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    Licence: CC BY


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