Atmospheric Measurement Techniques (Aug 2023)

Drone-based meteorological observations up to the tropopause – a concept study

  • K. B. Bärfuss,
  • H. Schmithüsen,
  • A. Lampert

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 16
pp. 3739 – 3765


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The main in situ database for numerical weather prediction currently relies on radiosonde and airliner observations, with large systematic data gaps: horizontally in certain countries, above the oceans and in polar regions, and vertically in the rapidly changing atmospheric boundary layer, as well as up to the tropopause in areas with low air traffic. These gaps might be patched by measurements with drones. They provide a significant improvement towards environment-friendly additional data, avoiding waste and without the need for helium. So far, such systems have not been regarded as a feasible alternative for performing measurements up to the upper troposphere. In this article, the development of a drone system that is capable of sounding the atmosphere up to an altitude of 10 km with its own propulsion is presented, for which Antarctic and mid-European ambient conditions were taken into account: after an assessment of the environmental conditions at two exemplary radiosounding sites, the design of the system and the instrumentation are presented. Further, the process to get permissions for such flight tests even in the densely populated continent of Europe is discussed, and methods to compare drone and radiosonde data for quality assessment are presented. The main result is the technical achievement of demonstrating the feasibility of reaching an altitude of 10 km with a small meteorologically equipped drone using its own propulsion. The first data are compared to radiosonde measurements, demonstrating an accuracy comparable to other aircraft-based observations, despite the simplistic sensor package deployed. A detailed error discussion is given. The article closes with an outlook on the potential use of drones for filling data gaps in the troposphere.