NOAA Expands Use, Funding of Unmanned Aircraft

Three test projects to study weather and climate phenomena with unmanned aircraft will begin this summer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced this week, adding that it has invested $3 million to explore how unmanned planes can be used in wide-ranging research. The three projects are part of NOAA's Unmanned Aircraft Program (http://uas.noaa.gov/).

"This technology has the potential to revolutionize our monitoring of the entire Earth," said Marty Ralph, manager of the program and a research meteorologist at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo. "Data gathered by unmanned aircraft can help us understand how humans are affecting the planet and how we might mitigate the impacts of natural disasters resulting from severe weather and climate."

The planes will take instruments on research flights that are too dangerous or too long for pilots and scientists, said the agency, which is working with university and industry partners. The test projects will study Atlantic and Gulf hurricanes at low altitudes between Aug. 1 and Oct. 31; sea ice conditions and seal populations as the Arctic climate warms; and Pacific and West Coast storms in spring 2009. NOAA said future missions will help in monitoring fisheries, tracking Greenland's glaciers, examining urban pollution, preserving natural resources, and providing key wildfire data to firefighters.

For information about the lab's activities, visit www.esrl.noaa.gov/.

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