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UAV atmospheric sampling on Ascension Island wins UK Engineering Prize

Posted on 09/09/2016

The Award was presented to Jim Freer, David Lowry, Rebecca Brownlow, Tom Richardson, Euan Nisbet seen here with the editor of The Engineer Jon Excell

In an NERC-funded consortium led by Royal Holloway, University of London, The Engineer’s Collaborate-to-Innovate UK award for 2016 has been won by Dr Tom Richardson, Prof Jim Freer and Dr Colin Greatwood from the University of Bristol, in partnership with the University of Birmingham (Dr Rick Thomas and Prof Rob MacKenzie) and with Royal Holloway,  (Prof Euan Nisbet, Rebecca Brownlow and Dr David Lowry). The awards were announced at a ceremony in London on Wednesday (7 September).

The prize in the category of Energy, Efficiency and Sustainability is judged by a panel of leading UK engineers and supported by The Engineer (the UK’s longest running engineering publication), together with EPSRC, and industrial sponsors ABB.  The criteria required the winners to demonstrate that they were 'innovative, collaborative and likely to have an impact in their field of application’.

The research outlined two highly successful field campaigns carried out on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, demonstrating the capability to collect multiple atmospheric samples using lightweight drones, also known as Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs). The drones captured air samples from up to 3km altitude in the equatorial air. David Lowry and Rebecca Brownlow of Royal Holloway's Greenhouse Gas Research Group analysed the methane content of the samples on the island, where Royal Holloway carries out long-term greenhouse gas measurement.

This was the first time that such repeated, high altitude air sampling missions have been carried out using lightweight multi-rotor autonomous vehicles. This approach has been shown to be a low cost, highly flexible approach to atmospheric sciences which offers the potential to be highly automated and widely applied.

Professor Euan Nisbet of Royal Holloway's Department of Earth Sciences, who leads NERC's consortium studying tropical methane, commented,

"This very innovative technique for sampling air up to 3km altitude opens up the possibility that Ascension Island could become a major UK Greenhouse Observatory, an  Atlantic equivalent of the USA's Mauna Loa Observatory."

Watch a short video introduction to the flight campaigns on Ascension here on YouTube:

Six other categories of prize winners saw a range of collaborating high profile engineering companies and academic institutions including BAE Systems, Rolls Royce, Tata Steel, BASF, University of Cambridge, Babcock, MoD, University of Oxford, and The Aircraft Carrier Alliance. For details see The Engineer

This research was supported by a NERC grant Investigation of the Southern Methane Anomaly: causes, implications, and relevance to past global events. (NE/K006185/1).


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