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Hurricane Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Demonstration Project 2008

Principal Investigator:
Joseph Cione (AOML/HRD)

Key Collaborators:
Eric Uhlhorn (AOML/HRD)
Sharan Majumdar (U Miami/RSMAS)
Chris Landsea (NOAA/TPC)
Chris Sisko (NOAA/TPC)
Peter Turlington (NASA/Wallops Flight Facility)
Nancy Ash (NOAA/AOC)

The primary objective of this project is to demonstrate the Aerosonde platform's overall capabilities (including survivability) in a hurricane environment.

The key scientific objectives are :

  • Undertake research aimed at improve understanding of the high-wind boundary layer and the exchanges of heat, moisture, and momentum across the oceanic surface.

  • Fully explore Aerosonde's potential to effectively observe critical regions of the tropical cyclone boundary layer environment.

  • Conduct low level missions into the eyewall region of hurricanes at altitudes of 200m or lower.

  • Conduct several low level flights into several tropical cyclones including multiple aircraft missions.

  • Continue to transmit real-time surface wind, pressure, and thermodynamic data to NOAA/TPC in direct support of operational requirements.

  • Provide calibration and verification data sets for NASA.

  • As a direct result of improved understanding of the hurricane boundary layer and air-sea environment, look for potential opportunities to contribute towards future operational model development.


Conduct a Hurricane Aerosonde Demonstration Project out of Barbados

The demonstration project is scheduled to run for an approximate two week period, from Aug. 15th to Oct. 15, 2008. The exact time of the deployment will depend on storm activity within the region of opportunity. As in past years, this project is in cooperation with Aerosonde Corp. (a subsidiary of AAI) and NASA. The Aerosondes will be deployed out of Bridgetown, Barbados and will have an approximate 1200 nautical mile (round-trip) operational range.

In addition, Aerosonde UAS experiments will be coordinated with NOAA and AFRES manned aircraft missions during the 2008 demo. The following experiments are possible:

  1. Inflow Experiment - Sample the tropical cyclone inflow layer's thermodynamic structure by flying within 200 feet of the surface in the inner core, spiraling in on the winds of the storm. The continuous observations of very low level winds may result in establishing the location and magnitude of storm's maximum wind speed.

  2. Tropical Cyclone Thermodynamic Asymmetry Experiment - The Aerosonde would fly a fixed radius orbit (~200 km from the center) either prior to or after its spiral in toward the center in order to improve the radial accuracy of the 34kt, 50kt, and 64kt wind estimates.

  3. Eye Sounding and Loitering Experiment - The Aerosonde would make a corkscrew sounding within the eye up to 10,000 feet, to find any early detection signal of rapid intensity changes. This would require a clear, discernible eye when there are no AFRES flights in progress and with close coordination with any NOAA flights at the time of the sounding.


While the successful utilization of the P-3 Orion and Gulfstream 4 aircraft have made NOAA a global leader in the area of hurricane aircraft surveillance and reconnaissance, detailed observations of the near-surface tropical cyclone (TC) boundary layer environment have been elusive due to the severe safety risks associated with low level TC manned flight missions. The primary objective of this funded project is to address this significant observational shortcoming by utilizing the unique low flying attributes of the (unmanned) Aerosonde observing platform.

It is believed that the payoff for such an effort would be significant and in some cases immediate. These benefits would include detailed documentation of a theretofore unknown region of the TC and simultaneously provide NOAA's Tropical Prediction Center (TPC) with real-time near surface wind and thermodynamic data within the TC environment. In addition, this effort will enhance our physical understanding of this critically important environment and ultimately, provide improvements to future forecasts of TC intensity change.

Continuous observation of the high-wind hurricane boundary layer has never been fully documented. This environment, where the atmosphere meets the sea, is critically important since it is where the ocean's warm water energy is directly transferred to the atmosphere just above it. The TC surface layer is also important because it is where we find the strongest winds in a hurricane and coincidentally, the level at which most of us live (i.e. at/near the surface). As such, observing and ultimately better understanding this region of the storm is crucial if we hope to improve our ability to make accurate forecasts of TC intensity change. Enhancing this predictive capability would not only save our economy billions of dollars but more importantly it would save countless lives.

Key references:

  • Cione, J.J., and E. W. Uhlhorn 2003: Sea surface temperature variability in hurricanes: Implications with respect to intensity change. Mon. Wea. Rev., v.131, pp.1783-1796
  • Wroe, D.R. and G.M. Barnes 2003: Inflow Layer Energetics of Hurricane Bonnie (1998) near Landfall. Mon. Wea. Rev. v.131 pp. 1600-1612
  • Cione, J.J., P. J. Black and S. Houston 2000: Surface observations in the hurricane environment. Mon. Wea. Rev, v.128 pp.1550-1561
  • Dunion, J.P., and C.S. Velden, 2004: The impact of the Saharan Air Layer on Atlantic tropical cyclone activity. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., v.85 no. 3, pp.353-365

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Last modified: 9/17/2009

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