Unmanned Aerial Systems for Investigating the Polar Atmospheric Boundary Layer : Technical Challenges and Examples of Applications
Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) fill a gap in high-resolution observations of meteorological parameters on small scales in the atmospheric boundary layer (ABL). Especially in the remote polar areas, there is a strong need for such detailed observations with different research foci. In this study, three systems are presented which have been adapted to the particular needs for operating in harsh polar environments: The fixed-wing aircraft M 2 AV with a mass of 6 kg, the quadrocopter ALICE with a mass of 19 kg, and the fixed-wing aircraft ALADINA with a mass of almost 25 kg. For all three systems, their particular modifications for polar operations are documented, in particular the insulation and heating requirements for low temperatures. Each system has completed meteorological observations under challenging conditions, including take-off and landing on the ice surface, low temperatures (down to −28 ∘ C), icing, and, for the quadrocopter, under the impact of the rotor downwash. The influence on the measured parameters is addressed here in the form of numerical simulations and spectral data analysis. Furthermore, results from several case studies are discussed: With the M 2 AV, low-level flights above leads in Antarctic sea ice were performed to study the impact of areas of open water within ice surfaces on the ABL, and a comparison with simulations was performed. ALICE was used to study the small-scale structure and short-term variability of the ABL during a cruise of RV Polarstern to the 79 ∘ N glacier in Greenland. With ALADINA, aerosol measurements of different size classes were performed in Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, in highly complex terrain. In particular, very small, freshly formed particles are difficult to monitor and require the active control of temperature inside the instruments. The main aim of the article is to demonstrate the potential of UAS for ABL studies in polar environments, and to provide practical advice for future research activities with similar systems.