Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University leverages UAS technology to improve North American monsoon forecast

According to NOAA, the North American monsoon from 2021 through July was among the wettest on record for parts of Arizona. Parts of Arizona received more than 200% of the average precipitation, with Tucson recording its wettest month on record in July. While increased precipitation is a welcome relief for drought-stricken areas, it also carries the risk of destructive and destructive storms. Researchers at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University are looking for ways to improve their forecasts and better predict the flash floods and severe thunderstorms affecting Arizona.

Dr. Kevin Adkins, associate professor at the College of Aviation, Daytona Beach campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, is one of the principal investigators leading field campaigns in Arizona and New Mexico this year. “It was a banner year for the North American monsoon,” says Dr. Adkins. “We were concerned from the start when we started planning for this last fall that there would be no monsoon because the last three years have been really trivial types of events. We were lucky this year because where we are in Arizona it was very active. Yet there are places this year that are very humid and yet within the same region, very dry. So what kind of small-scale features cause this kind of increased precipitation or the other way around? The main objective of our research is to better understand what triggers this very localized precipitation. “

To this end, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has recruited staff from its Prescott, Arizona and Daytona Beach, Florida campuses to conduct this research project. Their approach involved a variety of manned and unmanned search vehicles, the use of which provided almost continuous measurements of the lower atmosphere over the complex terrain found in northern Arizona.

“This was a very complex operation involving four multi-rotor unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), a fixed-wing UAS, a manned aircraft, as well as several weather balloon launches and a network of ground sensors. distributed sophisticated, ”said Dr. Adkins. “The unmanned aircraft allowed us to study the unique weather phenomenon present during the monsoon season on a spatial and temporal scale finer than ever before.”

Traditional forecasting models rely heavily on fixed local weather stations located miles from each other, which fail to capture the weather interactions that occur over complex terrain. Using a fleet of manned and unmanned vehicles, the researchers were able to capture measurements both horizontally and vertically. The theory is that the denser and more frequent the data, the better the forecast.

All vehicles involved in this field research were equipped with a suite of meteorological instruments to detect and measure humidity, temperature, pressure and wind speed. By capturing data near the Earth’s surface as thunderstorms were forming, the researchers hope they can more effectively monitor the timing and location of convective cells. By improving their understanding of these processes, they hope to improve the prediction of flash floods and severe thunderstorms that affect the region.

“We settled in areas of hotspots known for monsoon-associated convection and analyzed the role topography plays in this process,” says Dr. Adkins. “Specifically, what we were looking at was convective initiation relative to the monsoon pattern and how the topography of the region contributed to it. So things like channeling the flow and how that can improve and promote, or do the opposite for this type of convection.

By launching the unmanned aircraft and weather balloons as the storms formed, the researchers were able to capture detailed weather data from the lower atmosphere, an area that plays a critical role in initiating convection.
storms. Most computer models do not take into account the complexities of the lower atmosphere very well. The Embry-Riddle teams are looking to change that.

While multirotor UAS and weather balloons provided essential vertical wind and weather profiles, the fixed-wing unmanned aircraft, a Sentaero VLOS from Censys Technologies, allows the team to actively sample the lower part. of the boundary layer, which cannot be done safely with manned aircraft. Dr Adkins clarifies: “Since the fixed-wing UAS flies at a much slower speed, we are able to get a much finer resolution, but you limit your area of ​​interest to a much smaller area. . This is where the manned plane comes in: it has, of course, more legs, is able to obtain
at higher altitudes and provides a somewhat larger picture. So this is really a multi-faceted observation strategy where the unmanned aircraft offers finer resolution; the piloted plane providing an intermediate resolution, and the weather balloon giving us the vertical dimension on a slightly larger scale.

The key to capturing relevant data from the VLOS cell was the addition of the TriSonica Mini wind and weather sensor from Anemoment LLC. The TriSonica Mini is an ultrasonic anemometer that captures the three dimensions of wind, as well as temperature, pressure, humidity and time.

“We were very happy with the TriSonica Mini from the start,” says Dr. Marc Compere, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. “It was plug and play, which is great. It has a simple and straightforward interface which has proven to be easy to configure. The device was reliable. We had no issues with it, even though we added it so late into the game – we had about two weeks to bring it in, but it was solid. It was as strong or better than any other wind sensor. Throughout our studies, the
TriSonica Mini worked perfectly. There is nothing to modify and it is easy to use. You just turn it on, it works and it gives answers. Overall, this is an exceptional little product. I will be more direct about this. It’s awesome! It really is a great little product.

As Dr Compere mentioned, the addition of the TriSonica Mini sensor was last minute to say the least. Previously, the team had used a multi-hole pressure probe on the fixed-wing aircraft. Along with the monsoon research, they wanted to get additional weather data that the TriSonica Mini could provide.

“We weren’t sure how it was going to work,” says Dr. Adkins. “As Dr Compere mentioned, we built this sensor into the very, very last second. But what really made the difference was the great support we received throughout the process. It was truly incomparable. I want to make sure this has been recognized. We appreciate it. It made such a difference.

“This research has been very difficult,” said Dr. Adkins. “We relied on multiple vehicle operations, drone operations, a multitude of instruments on multiple vehicles. There may not be a lot of people installing anemometers on drones, but I suspect even fewer people are flying with other drones conducting simultaneous operations to get a better overview of the atmosphere. It’s very difficult.

“There were a lot of ways, and a lot of things that could go wrong and it was a pretty amazing effort, you know, multi-domain, multi-disciplinary, multi-vehicle, multi-sensor – a lot of things that could go wrong.” , points out Dr Compere. “And in reality, a lot of things go wrong, especially in a complex field campaign – it’s inevitable, but the TriSonica Mini was just solid. It was easy to integrate upstream and reliable on terrain. This would probably be the thing we liked the most about the sensor. So in a very complex multi-vehicle type operation with many
concerns, this sensor was not one of them.

The Embry-Riddle team is currently reviewing and reviewing the captured data, saving it and validating it before proceeding any further. They plan to present their findings at the AGU fall meeting in New Orleans, LA in December 2021.

Dr Compere adds: “If I were to summarize our research on the monsoon, we are trying to help improve monsoon forecasting, which in turn helps save lives and property. Going out in the desert is a science for sure, but the real goal is to help people better understand monsoons and their effects. These flash floods kill people and destroy property. So improving the weather forecast helps people. It can save both lives and property.

“This is very compelling research,” says Dr. Adkins. “Everyone wants to be a part of it. “

About Anémoment LLC
Anemoment LLC is a specialized meteorological instrument design company located in Longmont, CO. Anemoment is recognized for manufacturing the world’s smallest and lightest three-dimensional ultrasonic anemometers. From the TriSonica Mini, which is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, to the TriSonica Sphere, the most compact and
Accurate 3D sonic anemometer designed specifically for UAS-based atmospheric flow and turbulence research, Anemoment’s anemometers are recognized as powerful and extremely accurate tools for anyone involved in atmospheric monitoring, weather reporting, calculations turbulence and ecosystem research. Their size makes them well suited for
portable and temporary deployments, while the fact that they have no moving parts, thus eliminating maintenance issues, makes TriSonica sensors ideal for permanent installations. With its patented wave signal noise reduction technology, the TriSonica Mini and TriSonica Sphere give you the power to “know the wind”.

More information can be found at anemoment.com.

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