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Global Hawk UAVs enlisted to study hurricanes

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September 13, 2012

The first of the two Global Hawks, coming in for a landing in Virginia last Friday (Photo:...

The first of the two Global Hawks, coming in for a landing in Virginia last Friday (Photo: NASA Wallops)

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There’s only so much that we can learn about hurricanes by looking at them from the ground, or by observing them using distant satellites. Aircraft, on the other hand, give researchers an aerial view of the weather systems, while also allowing for direct measurements of variables such as temperature and humidity – the one catch is, would you want to be in a plane that was circling over a hurricane? Probably not. That’s one of the reasons why NASA is using Global Hawk UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to study hurricanes off the east coast of the U.S.

The agency’s month-long Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) mission, which started last week and lasts into early October, will incorporate two Global Hawks. The first one has already flown from its home base at Edwards Air Force Base, California to its mission base at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, landing there last Friday. On the way, however, it spent ten hours over the Atlantic Ocean, gathering data on Hurricane Leslie.

That first UAV is equipped with three instruments, for the sampling the environment surrounding hurricanes. These instruments include the laser-based Cloud Physics Lidar (CPL) system, which measures cloud structure and aerosols such as dust, sea salt and smoke particles; the Scanning High-resolution Interferometer Sounder (S-HIS), which remotely measures the temperature and water vapor vertical profile, plus the sea surface temperature; and the Advanced Vertical Atmospheric Profiling System (AVAPS), which measures winds, temperature and humidity by dropping small parachute-equipped sensors into the storm.

The flight path taken by the first of the UAVs, last Thursday/Friday (Image: NASA)
The flight path taken by the first of the UAVs, last Thursday/Friday (Image: NASA)

The second aircraft, which is due to arrive in two weeks, will have a different set of instruments, designed for studying the interiors of hurricanes and developing storms. These will include Doppler radar, along with microwave sensors such as the High-altitude Imaging Wind and Rain Airborne Profiler (HIWRAP), which allows for a 3D view of cloud structure and wind conditions; the High-Altitude MMIC Sounding Radiometer (HAMSR), which utilizes microwave wavelengths to measure temperature, water vapor, and precipitation from the top level of the hurricane to the surface of the ocean; and the Hurricane Imaging Radiometer (HIRAD), which is used to measure rain rates and wind speeds.

Both Global Hawks are remotely controlled by ground-based pilots, can reach altitudes of over 60,000 feet (18,288 meters), and are capable of staying aloft for up to 28 hours.

“The mission targets the processes that underlie hurricane formation and intensity change,” NASA stated in a press release. “The aircraft help scientists decipher the relative roles of the large-scale environment and internal storm processes that shape these systems.”

Following its study of Hurricane Leslie last week, the first UAV proceeded to observe the “birth” of Tropical Storm Nadine this Tuesday and Wednesday.

Source: NASA

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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2 Comments

Destablizing hurricanes and tornadoes should be at the forefront of drone technology. Such drones would alter the state of the air molecules which when hot and cold air combine as they do in such ways which lead to the problem mainly over oceans where all our problems probably come from. Such technology would avoid the massive crop lost and home loss suffered in the mid of the united states.

An intense beam from the nose of the drone in such as way crumbles the hurricanes. As with a vortex in the ocean the weakest point is likely the middle as the top and bottom are in a sort of feeding state and so stronger. Any suggestions from anyone?

Richardf
14th September, 2012 @ 09:20 am PDT

I beg to differ with the last part of the following statement "Aircraft, on the other hand, give researchers an aerial view of the weather systems, while also allowing for direct measurements of variables such as temperature and humidity – the one catch is, would you want to be in a plane that was circling over a hurricane? Probably not."

I have served as one of many of the Hurricane Hunters that have seen the awe inspiring view from within a hurricane and would not give up that experience to only see a video of it from a UAV. And I will always contend that the man in the loop approach will be the most flexible and effective to deal with unforeseen situations.

Brianp
18th October, 2012 @ 09:36 am PDT
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