Climate change is an environmental issue that has impacted animals and humans alike. Climate change is now being placed in the hands of drones which monitor its effects; a group of Wake Forest researchers decided to use a drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle, to gather information about the western Amazon region in South America. The area is 3,000 miles wide and has 900 billion trees. It is also a major place for Earth’s weather patterns and climate.
The researchers’ goal is to predict the effects of climate change and to better understand it. Max Messinger, a graduate of Wake Forest’s biology department and the man who built the drone said that the temperature of leaves are an important part of the research. He also explained that the water that is put into the atmosphere impacts precipitation and the whole world. Messinger continues by saying that when people have a better understanding of leaf temperatures under different conditions, they can understand how much water is put into the atmosphere and how much carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. These two factors help scientists understand what effect they will have on the climate if the temperature increases a few degrees.
The reason the researchers decided to use the drone was because it was difficult to get into the Andes Mountains, which is on the western border of the Amazon. They also thought it was hard to get the necessary information from the Andes. Miles Silman, a biology professor at Wake Forest, said that the satellite data on temperature and thermal distribution in the Amazon does not provide the necessary resolution to build correct data models.
The researchers use global positioning data, onboard stabilization systems and coordinates from compasses to gather information which is then put into mission planning software. The software creates a flight plan and that plan is given to the drone. The researchers then flip a switch to start the drone. The drone, a three-foot opticopter, can go as fast as 15 miles in 20 minutes; it carries a thermal imaging camera that gathers information on temperature readings, animal behavior and characteristics of leaves and flowers.
Climate change is now placed in the hands of not one but two drones; aside from the opticopter, a larger drone was used to collect information from the Earth’s atmosphere. The Global Hawk research aircraft flew to Guam in the western Pacific region to get information in the upper atmosphere, which helps researchers learn about changes to the Earth’s climate. The drone is part of the Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment; the experiment measures the chemical compositions and the moisture levels of the upper areas of the lowest layer of the Earth’s atmosphere.
The smallest change to this area can greatly impact the Earth’s climate. Scientists will use this data to understand the physical processes that occur in this part of the atmosphere as well as to make more accurate predictions about the climate. The Global Hawk is the most sophisticated drone out there and costs $200 million dollars. The drone has had 13 different instruments installed that can capture air samples and analyze gases, clouds and solar radiation for the experiment.
Climate change is now being placed in the capable hands of drones after two drones were used to learn more about the Earth’s atmosphere, which can teach scientists about climate change. The opticoptor was used to monitor the Andes Mountains, which scientists would otherwise not be able to explore because of its difficult climate. The first drone collects water temperature samples that can tell scientists how the atmosphere is affected when the temperature drops a few degrees. The second drone, called the Global Hawk aircraft, collects information about the Earth’s atmosphere. The drone flew to Guam to learn about the atmosphere in the western Pacific region; it is part of the Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment. The first flight happened near the end of January when it flew over Australia. No matter which drone is used, scientists are learning more information about how the Earth’s climate changes.
By Jordan Bonte