"Furthermore, we're relying on an electric propulsion system that makes it extremely reliable and easy to use," he said. "Battery power eliminates emissions and messy fuels that could compromise the data collection systems and greatly reduces vibration."
According to Schinstock, the remote sensing tool will meet a need shared by thousands of environmental scientists worldwide. For just a few thousand dollars, researchers will have a way to collect data for small ecosystem sites at low altitudes and at very slow speeds. Until now, climate research has required costly, piloted airplanes and satellites for earth's images and data, he said.
"Small remote-control planes can be put to work in a variety of environmental settings," Ham said. "We want them to be comparatively cheap to build and operate. They'll provide a data-collection tool that offers tremendous flexibility to users. We're really developing a new tool for researchers that will allow them to go out and comprehensively map the vegetation in a field-sized area, for example, one square section."
Schinstock said the concept of using the sensing tool for nonmilitary applications opens up many possibilities for collecting reliable data in tricky or dangerous settings, such as studying dispersal of a smoke plume during a prairie fire; checking smokestack emissions; counting livestock in the pens at a feedlot; or checking crop fields for problem areas, for example.
"We keep thinking of new civilian uses for it," Ham said. He also said it will help his own research, which focuses on measuring the movement of gases between the prairie and the atmosphere.
Ham collects data via a mini-network of six meteorological towers on the Konza Prairie and the Rannells Flint Hills Prairie Preserve. The Konza towers are a component of the regional network, Ameriflux. Counterpart networks in Europe, Asia and Oceania also collect ecological data, which then flows to FLUXNET cen
Source:Kansas State University