The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is taking swift steps to predict wildfires by partnering with a drone firm.
Colorado-based Black Swift Technologies recently announced the drone deal – the deployment of “a tightly integrated system consisting of an airframe, avionics, and multiple sensors capable of research-quality measurements of CO2, CO, aerosol, [and other data] in wildfire plumes, and multispectral high-resolution maps of wildfires,” according to a company press release.
The company will use its fixed-wing SuperSwift drone coupled with the SwiftCore Flight Management System to launch the sensor array, which will be operated by the University of Colorado’s Integrated Remote & In Situ Sensing Program (IRISS).
Black Swift CEO Jack Elston says his company’s drone design makes it ideal for wildfire forecasting. The SuperSwift model offers flight times in excess of two hours and can travel between 30-60 kmh with a forward-facing payload capability up to 5 pounds which, he said is “ideal for atmospheric sampling and for easy instrument package swapping.”
Most importantly, the SuperSwift drone package will be able to perform nighttime measurements which, due to safety concerns, can be difficult to complete with a manned air mission.
“Ground observations using a mobile laboratory provide detailed chemical information on fire plumes, but lack information on plume spatial (vertical and horizontal) distribution to put the point measurements in context,” Elston said.
“NOAA is interested in a UAS observational system that can use be used for fire-related measurements, and so in a sense what we want to know is when and where does the fire flow and ultimately what kind of fire and air quality will result regionally,” said NOAA investigator Ru-Shan Gao. “We want to monitor the fire and incorporate the remote and in situ measurements into a fire forecast model so ultimately we’ll be able to do better fire forecasts that will help firefighters better fight the fire and keep human and property losses to a minimum.”
In March, Black Swift conducted a successful drone survey at extreme altitudes over the Rocky Mountains to capture and deliver geo-referenced digital aerial images.
Over the past few years, drones have been embraced by both firefighting agencies and by officials seeking to mitigate wildfire damage. Last year, Canadian drone company Aeromao partnered with the U.S. government to survey and map fire-damaged land. Using the $9,000 Talon – equipped with a Micasense Rededge multispectral imagery array – researchers are be able to map acreage and survey damage to foliage. That data can then be used to re-introduce wildlife and domestic mammals to viable land after the fires.
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
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