Oregon State Scientists Discover Novel UAV Application

For the first time, scientists at Oregon State University are measuring atmospheric temperatures with fiber optic thermometers suspended from unmanned aircraft—combining two emerging technologies to probe a poorly understood swath of Earth’s atmosphere.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, John Selker is buying two new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to loft sophisticated measuring instruments of his own design into an atmospheric zone that’s been hard to study until now.

“These two technologies together will add orders of magnitude to the precision and resolution of our atmospheric measurements,” said Selker, a hydrologist and professor in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “We’ll be able to take a continuous slice of data through space and time, getting information that no one has been able to capture before.”

The high-powered thermometers use a down-to-earth technology: fiber-optic cable, similar to that used for telephone and internet communication. By measuring tiny pulses of light zipping along spun-glass strands, the fiber cables capture thousands of temperature readings along their length, detecting differences as slight as 0.01 degree Celsius.

In early-morning test flights near Hermiston, Selker’s OSU colleagues Michael Wing and Chad Higgins suspended a 400-foot sensing cable—not much thicker than a kite string—from an OSU-owned quad copter. They flew the aircraft at 30 miles an hour, sending it high enough that the tip of the cable just touched the ground. The cable reported temperatures every 13 centimeters.

The researchers started their flights at sunrise because they wanted to see how the atmosphere develops in the boundary layer, the lowest portion of Earth’s atmosphere, as the sun’s heat begins to move the air.

The Earth’s surface and near atmosphere—up to about 1,000 meters above the ground—is a critical zone of feedbacks between air, water and earth, Selker said. “It’s where processes interact, where synergies occur. And temperature is a critical driver of these interactions.”

Until now, he said, scientists have had a hard time taking comprehensive measurements of the lower atmosphere.

“Typically, you’d have to take readings from a fixed point, a tower or a balloon,” Selker said. “Now, instead of measuring one or two or three points at a time, we can measure a million points.”

Such detailed measurements promise to shed light on how clouds and rainstorms develop, how air pollution gets diluted, how pollen moves across the landscape and other important atmospheric dynamics, he said.

Selker’s sensors have captured data from land and sea—an old-growth forest canopy, the Pacific Ocean floor, Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf. Until now, there hasn’t been an easy way to deploy them in the air.

UAVs equipped with fiber-optic sensors represent “a fundamentally new way to look at the lower atmosphere,” Selker said. “It’s like living with 20-200 vision and then getting a good pair of glasses. You see a different universe.”

UAVs—popularly known as drones—are best known for their military uses, but they have found many civilian applications, including precision agriculture, traffic surveillance and wilderness rescue. They are a boon to environmental scientists, Selker said, because they can carry measuring instruments into places where it’s difficult or dangerous to send humans, or where other technology can’t easily reach.

Selker’s UAVs will join a growing suite of instruments and tools at the Center for Transformative Environmental Monitoring, or CTEMPs, an NSF-sponsored partnership between OSU and the University of Nevada-Reno. CTEMPs has a fleet of scientific instruments that it makes available, along with training, to environmental scientists throughout the United States.

Selker is a co-director of CTEMPs along with Scott Tyler of the University of Nevada. Wing is director of AirCTEMPs and directs UAV flights at OSU for agriculture, engineering, fish, wildlife and natural resource applications.

The $1.2 million NSF grant renewal will also fund CTEMPs’s purchase of other UAV-mountable instruments, including thermal imaging cameras and a small LIDAR, or laser-powered imaging tool, that captures three-dimensional measurements of landscape features.

Leave a Reply

Data Management Stories
AmericasPrecision Farming Companies to Watch in 2018 (OPINION)
January 17, 2018
My friends, as many of you told me repeatedly throughout the last 12 months, 2017 was an interesting year in Read More
farmer-tractor-ipad
Data ManagementThe Era of Digital Agriculture: Opportunities and Challenges
January 17, 2018
The digital revolution is changing the way agriculture is done. Rapid population growth, changes in market demands, depleting agricultural land, Read More
Data ManagementBlockchain: Making Data Cleaner, More Secure
January 16, 2018
Probably most professionals who deal with business data have at least heard the term “blockchain” bantered about as potentially the Read More
Soybean-field-clouds-Photo-courtesy-of-Earl-R-Shumaker
Data ManagementBetting on Rain? The Accuracy and Reliability of Precipitation Forecasts
January 16, 2018
For you sports junkies out there, if I could prove to you that I can correctly predict winners and losers Read More
Trending Articles
John-Deere-Cab-GPS
Data ManagementPrecision Ag Hardware and Software: A Little Off-Season Maintenance Goes A Long Way
January 11, 2018
All service technicians have heard this line. Most often when spring makes its anticipated return to our lives. It is Read More
Anez-Consulting-Paul-Anez-and-Michael-Dunn
Service ProvidersAnez Consulting: Focus On Fertility
January 9, 2018
Central Minnesota features variability aplenty when it comes to soil characteristics and topography, from flat, black expanses rich in organic Read More
Agrishow2017
Americas5 Best Ag Tech Shows in Brazil
January 8, 2018
Brazil continues to demonstrate its potential in agriculture. Several international companies are investing in our country because we have a Read More
Farmer and computer
Service ProvidersPrecision Agriculture Writers Wanted To Join Our Team in 2018
December 10, 2017
About The Opportunity: PrecisionAg.com is looking for people to join our team in 2018 and submit original content to our Read More
Harvested-Corn-Field-Clouds
Data ManagementWeather Services Advance Precision Agriculture
December 4, 2017
Some estimates suggest over half of growers’ activities are impacted by weather conditions, from field workability to fertility management to harvest Read More
Wheat-an-oats-Daniel-X-ONeil
Data ManagementWill Open-Source Finally Unlock Ag Technology’s Potential?
November 28, 2017
To Aaron Ault’s eyes, ag technology right now is something like a walled garden — not unlike the Microsoft of Read More
Latest News
Lee_Brittany
Specialty CropsFlorida Blue Farms Digging Data for Savings and Profit
January 17, 2018
Brittany Lee is no stranger to land management, writes Frank Giles on GrowingProduce.com. She grew up around it, observing her parents Read More
AmericasPrecision Farming Companies to Watch in 2018 (OPINION)
January 17, 2018
My friends, as many of you told me repeatedly throughout the last 12 months, 2017 was an interesting year in Read More
farmer-tractor-ipad
Data ManagementThe Era of Digital Agriculture: Opportunities and Chall…
January 17, 2018
The digital revolution is changing the way agriculture is done. Rapid population growth, changes in market demands, depleting agricultural land, Read More
Data ManagementBlockchain: Making Data Cleaner, More Secure
January 16, 2018
Probably most professionals who deal with business data have at least heard the term “blockchain” bantered about as potentially the Read More
Soybean-field-clouds-Photo-courtesy-of-Earl-R-Shumaker
Data ManagementBetting on Rain? The Accuracy and Reliability of Precip…
January 16, 2018
For you sports junkies out there, if I could prove to you that I can correctly predict winners and losers Read More
center-pivot-irrigation-drop-sprinklers-on-corn
Precision IrrigationFinding Your Precision Ag Mindset
January 15, 2018
A precision mindset is the most important requirement for successful precision ag technology adoption. One of my first VRI (variable Read More
Drone-and-operator-Photo-courtesy-of-Kray-Technologies
DronesCrop Protection Application by Drone: A Q&A with Kr…
January 15, 2018
January is a busy month for agricultural companies. It’s a month that strong sales can set the mood for the Read More
Data ManagementAgGateway Grain Traceability Proof-of-Concept Seeks Ind…
January 15, 2018
AgGateway’s Precision Agriculture and Grain & Feed councils have issued a call for participation for a proof-of-concept initiative in AgGateway’s Read More
John-Deere-Cab-GPS
Data ManagementPrecision Ag Hardware and Software: A Little Off-Season…
January 11, 2018
All service technicians have heard this line. Most often when spring makes its anticipated return to our lives. It is Read More
Corn-Planter
Grower Services & SolutionsCorn Planter: The Train of Consequences
January 11, 2018
It’s always planter season in our shop but now that harvest is done the corn planter is the next piece Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversSmart Ag Announces Driverless Tractor Automation Platfo…
January 11, 2018
An Iowa technology company has unlocked the tremendous potential for automation in agriculture by developing the first cloud-based platform for Read More
Anez-Consulting-Paul-Anez-and-Michael-Dunn
Service ProvidersAnez Consulting: Focus On Fertility
January 9, 2018
Central Minnesota features variability aplenty when it comes to soil characteristics and topography, from flat, black expanses rich in organic Read More
Agrible
Grower Services & SolutionsAgrible to Launch Retailer Services in 2018
January 9, 2018
It’s a new year, which means new market challenges. Full service retailers are searching for ways to differentiate themselves and Read More
jeremy-speaking
Grower Services & SolutionsGrower and Precision Ag Services: Opportunities Lost
January 9, 2018
I often spend time with growers, talking about their operations, and the processes they go through each season to do Read More
Winters-Farming-farm-manager-Alex-Bergwerff-and-Ranch-Systems-marketing-and-business-development-manager-Hylon-Kaufmann
Precision IrrigationInside California Irrigation: Winters Farming
January 9, 2018
As many of us already know, almonds tend to get a bad rap for their water-use efficiency — or some Read More
Sentera software
DronesSentera Offering Elevation Data Mapping Via AgVault
January 9, 2018
Sentera announces the availability of elevation maps within the Sentera AgVault platform, offering agronomists, crop consultants, and growers additional field Read More
Industry NewsRaven, South Dakota State University Link Up: What You …
January 9, 2018
On Tuesday afternoon Raven and South Dakota State University (SDSU) held a press conference on the SDSU campus in Sioux Read More
Agrishow2017
Americas5 Best Ag Tech Shows in Brazil
January 8, 2018
Brazil continues to demonstrate its potential in agriculture. Several international companies are investing in our country because we have a Read More