Unmanned aircraft program receives new funding

July 14, 2011


As part of NASA’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, a team of University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers are funded to use the Geophysical Institute’s fleet of unmanned aircraft to improve wildfire data collection. The EPSCoR proposal, Quantifying Fuel Impacts on Wildfire Behavior and Emissions by Coupling Small Unmanned Aircraft In-situ Measurements with Satellite Observations, will begin this month and carry on through June 2014. Denise Thorsen of Alaska Space Grant is the Principal Investigator and will work with GI researchers Catherine Cahill, Gerhard Kramm, Franz Meyer, Nicole Mölders and Gregory Walker. 


Improving wildfire modeling is an issue especially pertinent to the boreal forest regions of Alaska and northern Canada. Although satellite remote sensing techniques have been used for many years to track wildfire behaviors, the information that can be derived from that data is limited. Data collected by unmanned aircraft will complement satellite images to offer a more comprehensive understanding of wildfires for better modeling. Unmanned aircraft data collection will enable observation of different fire stages – flaming, smoldering, glowing, area burned and areas of unburned background – that are undecipherable by satellite. 


This EPSCoR award is but one of several new projects for the unmanned aircraft team lead by Greg Walker of the GI’s Poker Flat Research Range. In the past month Walker’s team had five proposals accepted from various funding organizations that will utilize the aircraft to collect a diverse array of information. From working with the Department of Homeland Security to tracking sea lion populations in the Aleutian islands, Walker and his team are ready to show the versatility of unmanned aircraft.


For more information on two current research projects visit the UAF Sun Star here: http://www.uafsunstar.com/?s=unmanned+aircraft&x=0&y=0.