An unmanned aerial vehicle sampling platform for atmospheric water vapor isotopes in polar environments

Rozmiarek, K. S., et al., 2021: An unmanned aerial vehicle sampling platform for atmospheric water vapor isotopes in polar environments. Atmospheric Measurement Techniques, 14(11): 7045-7067, doi: 10.5194/amt-14-7045-2021.


Above polar ice sheets, atmospheric water vapor exchangeoccurs across the planetary boundary layer (PBL) and is an importantmechanism in a number of processes that affect the surface mass balance ofthe ice sheets. Yet, this exchange is not well understood and hassubstantial implications for modeling and remote sensing of the polarhydrologic cycle. Efforts to characterize the exchange face substantiallogistical challenges including the remoteness of ice sheet field camps,extreme weather conditions, low humidity and temperature that limit theeffectiveness of instruments, and dangers associated with flying mannedaircraft at low altitudes. Here, we present an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)sampling platform for operation in extreme polar environments that iscapable of sampling atmospheric water vapor for subsequent measurement ofwater isotopes. This system was deployed to the East Greenland Ice-coreProject (EastGRIP) camp in northeast Greenland during summer 2019. Foursampling flight missions were completed. With a suite of atmosphericmeasurements aboard the UAV (temperature, humidity, pressure, GPS) wedetermine the height of the PBL using online algorithms, allowing forstrategic decision-making by the pilot to sample water isotopes above andbelow the PBL. Water isotope data were measured by a Picarro L2130-iinstrument using flasks of atmospheric air collected within the nose cone ofthe UAV. The internal repeatability for δD and δ18O was2.8 ‰ and 0.45 ‰, respectively,which we also compared to independent EastGRIP tower-isotope data. Based onthese results, we demonstrate the efficacy of this new UAV-isotope platformand present improvements to be utilized in future polar field campaigns. Thesystem is also designed to be readily adaptable to other fields of study,such as measurement of carbon cycle gases or remote sensing of groundconditions.