Kiel researchers use drone for first time in sample collection
For the first time, a drone has been
successfully used by scientists at GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean
Research Kiel to collect air and water samples. This took place during
a study to better understand the role of coastal waters as a source of
reactive trace gases, which are essential for chemical processes in the
climate and atmosphere.
These days, unmanned aerial vehicles (or drones) are no longer just the
toys of hobbyists. They are also being used to accomplish complex
tasks, in the workforce and industry, and now, in research as well.
A team of scientists from GEOMAR recently used a medium-sized drone to
extract air and water samples in the inaccessible surf zone. Samples
were taken by a DJI Matrice 600 drone on the western coast of the
island of Sylt at the beginning of April.
According to project manager
Dr Birgit Quack from GEOMAR, “We had very variable weather conditions
with wind speeds of more than 10 m/s, where the drone proved to be very
good. On the first mild day, a stroller asked if it wouldn’t be easier
to do this in summer with a swimmer. On the following stormy days with
high surf waves no one asked again, in fact except for us, almost
nobody was there.”
“We were able to fly both horizontal and vertical profiles to take samples of atmospheric parameters in the coastal zone,”
said Dr. Steffen Fuhlbrügge, a meteorologist at GEOMAR and controller
of the drone.
The drone collected 120 air samples and 40 water samples,
as well as recording images of the sea surface.
Prof. Dr. Christa Marandino, an atmospheric chemist from GEOMAR,
explained that the gas exchange between the ocean and atmosphere was
enhanced by wave breaking, which was detectable via whitecap coverage. “With
our field study, we want to better understand the role of coastal
waters as a source of reactive trace gases that are important for
tropospheric and stratospheric chemistry and the climate,” she continued.
The samples obtained are currently being studied. An American scientist
is analysing the air samples for more than 50 trace gases including
halocarbons (e.g. bromoform, dimethlybromide, methyl iodide),
non-methane hydrocarbons (e.g. isoprene), and sulfur-containing
compounds (e.g. dimethyl sulfide). The scientists at GEOMAR are
focussed mainly with analysing water samples and interpreting aerial
At the same time, the scientists are already looking to the future.
want to further optimise air and water sampling in order to be able to
cover a larger area with more flexibility, as well as to integrate
additional sensors (e.g. for meteorological data) on the drone package,”
said Dr. Quack.
Furthermore, the sampling and image recording should be
combined with direct gas transfer measurements so as to improve the
estimation of the gas exchange between the atmosphere and ocean.
He added, “In the end, we would like
to use this measurement method also for ship expeditions on open ocean,
in particular in the tropics and subtropics, as the concentrations of
the marine trace gases are often even higher in these regions.”