University-wide, Talks & Lectures
19 Oct 2020
Zoom Webcast

A Virtual Ride of Discovery: Exploring the Earth's Climate Using Drones

Department of Civil, Environmental, and Ocean Engineering

Department of Civil, Environmental, and Ocean Engineering
Christopher J. Zappa

Lamont Research Professor, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University

To meet one-on-one with the speaker via ZOOM, contact [email protected]


Operation of unoccupied aerial systems (UAS) from ships are proving to be an important modern sensing platform that advances oceanographic research and expands capabilities of ocean observing systems. For over a decade, my group at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory has worked to develop an infrastructure design of and laid the foundation for a revolutionary new UAS platform and sensor payload capability to support state-of-the-art oceanographic and atmospheric research with unparalleled flexibility of tasking. Here, we present the development of cutting-edge payload instrumentation for UASs that provides a new capability for ship-deployed operations to capture a unique, high resolution spatial and temporal variability of the changing air-sea interaction processes than was previously possible. The ship-based Remote Aerial Vehicle Exploration Network (RAVEN) consists of five components: (1) a fleet of fixed-wing high-endurance (>12 hour) UASs with a fully-autonomous Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) capability; (2) a high-bandwidth (100+ Mbps at 50 nautical miles), networked real-time communication system for active mission control from the research vessel to act as our “eyes over the horizon,” (3) modular interchangeable scientific payloads (15-lb nominal), (4) advanced mission planning software, and (5) a streamlined data archiving pipeline. The RAVEN facility infrastructure enables novel scientific research, meets the diverse needs of the oceanographic community by filling an important gap in existing oceanographic infrastructure, and provides the next generation of instrumentation capability for integrated ship-based UAS research. Ultimately, our goal is to make UAS technology and observations as routine onboard research vessels as the CTD, yet the limits of their utility are as boundless as the imagination of the instrument’s users. When deployed from research vessels, UASs provide a transformational science prism unequaled using 1-D data snapshots from ships or moorings alone, and improve asset mobilization for targeted efficient data collection. In this talk, we will take a virtual ride of discovery on an unoccupied aerial vehicle from the Pacific Ocean near Fiji all the way to a coastal village in the Arctic. In 2016 and 2019, we flew the Latitude model HQ-90 fixed wing UAS from the R/V Falkor in the Western Pacific 400 nautical miles south of Guam (2016) and Fiji (2019) to study processes of the sea surface microlayer and their effects on upper ocean heating, radiance and irradiance. We continued our work in 2018 and 2019 with UASs in the Arctic bridging the scientific and indigenous communities to study sea ice change in Alaska with funding from the Moore Foundation. We will discuss topics ranging from the bio-physical processes that impact a warming ocean, to understanding the impacts of a changing climate on the subsistence living of indigenous communities in Alaska.

The talk will cover the following two projects... both take advantage of this new UAV technology:

Research cruises aboard the R/V Falkor in the Pacific near Guam and Fiji using a transformative new UAV capability for oceanography…

Ikaagvik Sikukun project: Co-production of knowledge in remote indigenous communities in Alaska…


Christopher J Zappa is a Lamont Research Professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. He received his PhD from the University of Washington, Seattle in Applied Ocean Physics in 1999 and completed his Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 2003.  Zappa has been at the forefront of the field of air-sea interaction since 1992 with extensive in situ, shipborne, tower, surface-drifter, autonomous surface vehicle, and manned and unmanned airborne observational-based expertise. He was an ONR Young Investigator from 2004-2007 and recently the 2017 Schmidt Ocean Institute 5th Anniversary Impact Award recipient. He was awarded a Fulbright Scholar in 2018 to study unmanned aerial systems at the University of Napoli, Parthenope. He is dedicated to understanding the processes that affect ocean-atmosphere interaction and their boundary layers. His focus includes wave dynamics and wave breaking, the effect of near-surface turbulence on heat, mass, and momentum transport, airborne infrared, multispectral visible, and polarimetric remote sensing, upper-ocean processes, polar ocean processes, coastal and estuarine dynamics. He has led a continuing evolution of the development of measurement systems for air-sea interaction, heat exchange and small-scale processes. He has developed an airborne infrared dual-imaging technique to characterize sea surface temperature variability at scales ranging from O(1m) to O(1km). He has worked to develop imaging techniques that use polarization of visible radiation to quantify the phase-resolved fine-scale surface roughness features at air-water interfaces. He has extensive experience in managing scientific projects and a strong history of working on large-scale collaborative field experiments.


Passcode: 475833

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