Understanding the Earth’s Atmosphere Better with Unmanned Aircraft Systems

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Astronomers must view through our changing atmosphere to see the heavens from the ground. NASA and NOAA scientists have used new Unmanned Aircraft Systems to better understand our atmosphere in order to study atmospheric motions, water vapor, climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, air quality, and hurricanes. New technologies allow scientists to operate new instrumentation on aircraft over a larger range and endurance timescales, including both regional and global coverage. It is now possible for scientists based at their home institution to operate their instruments and view their data remotely. Scientists, program managers, and policy makers can benefit from the real time data feed through the “Internet in the Sky” communications to make real-time changes in the flight path. The addition of unmanned aircraft systems to atmospheric research allows scientists more real-time coverage through 30+ hour flights, hazardous duty without risk to pilots or crew, and many cruising altitude options (just above ground to 65,000 ft). The talk will highlight the scientific and technical results of a recent Pacific-Arctic Ocean unmanned aircraft campaigns involving local area scientists.

Presentation PDF: 

Name of Presenter: 

Dr. James W. Elkins


Dr. Elkins is the chief of the Nitrous Oxide and Halocarbons Group at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, CO. He has authored or co-authored over 90 publications in the fields of global warming and the depletion of stratospheric ozone. His research has covered measurements of atmospheric trace species from the depths of the Pacific Ocean to the heights of the stratosphere. He is the Principal Investigator for the UCATS instrument on the Global Hawk Pacific Experiment (GloPac) in 2010 and the future Airborne Tropical TRoposphere EXperiment (ATTREX) for the NASA Global Hawk UAS platform.