The University of Colorado and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers are teaming up to fly two unmanned airplanes over the Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland with hopes to get a new look at Greenland’s ice sheet and its melting patterns – a canary in the climate change coal mine, which Gore often talks about.
The planes are called Mantas (no genetic association with the Manta Ray Blimp), and are less than six feet long and about eight feet wide, easily fitting into the bed of a pickup for transportation. They were provided by Advanced Ceramics Research Inc of Tucson, AZ, and are equipped with (deep breath…) digital cameras, atmospheric temperature and pressure sensors, ice-surface temperature sensors, laser range finders for high-res elevation models of the glacial region, (second deep breath…) and special cameras that gather information from the electromagnetic spectrum of light penetrating the water of lakes on top of the ice sheet, which can be used to calculate the depths of the lakes and thus how much water could drain from the lakes out to sea. In other words, they carry 15 pounds of expensive, beeping, flashing, data-collecting gizmos.
The Mantas can fly lower than manned aircrafts, going between 500 and 1,000 feet at about 45 miles per hour for six hour time frames. Using the Mantas eliminates work deemed too dangerous – or boring – for humans, and supplements what is gathered by satellites, like what we can see on Google Earth. Plus, it’s a blast to fly remote control planes so having a scientific reason makes it a little more legit to have fun at work. The flights will help scientists figure out how much the ice sheet is melting, by how much it is likely to melt in the future, and what the impact may be on Arctic life.
The same unmanned aircraft technology behind these Mantas is also helping out with California’s wildfires, examining pollution levels in the atmosphere, and studying up on Atlantic and Gulf hurricanes. So they’re handy little cool remote control airplanes.
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