A UAV-based active AirCore system for measurements of greenhouse gases

Andersen, Truls; Scheeren, Bert; Peters, Wouter; Chen, Huilin


We developed and field-tested an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)-based active AirCore for atmospheric mole fraction measurements of CO2, CH4, and CO. The system applies an alternative way of using the AirCore technique invented by NOAA. As opposed to the conventional concept of passively sampling air using the atmospheric pressure gradient during descent, the active AirCore collects atmospheric air samples using a pump to pull the air through the tube during flight, which opens up the possibility to spatially sample atmospheric air. The active AirCore system used for this study weighs ∼-1.1-kg. It consists of a ∼-50-m long stainless-steel tube, a small stainless-steel tube filled with magnesium perchlorate, a KNF micropump, and a 45-μm orifice working together to form a critical flow of dried atmospheric air through the active AirCore. A cavity ring-down spectrometer (CRDS) was used to analyze the air samples on site not more than 7-min after landing for mole fraction measurements of CO2, CH4, and CO. We flew the active AirCore system on a UAV near the atmospheric measurement station at Lutjewad, located in the northwest of the city of Groningen in the Netherlands. Five consecutive flights took place over a 5-h period on the same morning, from sunrise until noon. We validated the measurements of CO2 and CH4 from the active AirCore against those from the Lutjewad station at 60-m. The results show a good agreement between the measurements from the active AirCore and the atmospheric station (N-Combining double low line-146; R2CO2: 0.97 and R2CH4: 0.94; and mean differences: CO2: 0.18-ppm and CH4: 5.13-ppb). The vertical and horizontal resolution (for CH4) at typical UAV speeds of 1.5 and 2.5-m-s-1 were determined to be ±24.7 to 29.3 and ±41.2 to 48.9-m, respectively, depending on the storage time. The collapse of the nocturnal boundary layer and the buildup of the mixed layer were clearly observed with three consecutive vertical profile measurements in the early morning hours. Besides this, we furthermore detected a CH4 hotspot in the coastal wetlands from a horizontal flight north to the dike, which demonstrates the potential of this new active AirCore method to measure at locations where other techniques have no practical access.