The Unmanned Systems Research Laboratory (USRL): A New Facility for UAV-Based Atmospheric Observations
Antoniou, Antonis C
The Unmanned Systems Research Laboratory (USRL) of the Cyprus Institute is a new mobile exploratory platform of the EU Research Infrastructure Aerosol, Clouds and Trace Gases Research InfraStructure (ACTRIS). USRL offers exclusive Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)-sensor solutions that can be deployed anywhere in Europe and beyond, e.g., during intensive field campaigns through a transnational access scheme in compliance with the drone regulation set by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for the research, innovation, and training. UAV sensor systems play a growing role in the portfolio of Earth observation systems. They can provide cost-effective, spatial in-situ atmospheric observations which are complementary to stationary observation networks. They also have strong potential for calibrating and validating remote-sensing sensors and retrieval algorithms, mapping close-to-the-ground emission point sources and dispersion plumes, and evaluating the performance of atmospheric models. They can provide unique information relevant to the short- and long-range transport of gas and aerosol pollutants, radiative forcing, cloud properties, emission factors and a variety of atmospheric parameters. Since its establishment in 2015, USRL is participating in major international research projects dedicated to (1) the better understanding of aerosol-cloud interactions, (2) the profiling of aerosol optical properties in different atmospheric environments, (3) the vertical distribution of air pollutants in and above the planetary boundary layer, (4) the validation of Aeolus satellite dust products by utilizing novel UAV-balloon-sensor systems, and (5) the chemical characterization of ship and stack emissions. A comprehensive overview of the new UAV-sensor systems developed by USRL and their field deployments is presented here. This paper aims to illustrate the strong scientific potential of UAV-borne measurements in the atmospheric sciences and the need for their integration in Earth observation networks.