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UNIVERTÉ DE SHERBROOKE GROUP USE UAVS TO MEASURE ARCTIC SNOW COVER
A group from the Université de Sherbrooke was in Cambridge Bay 22 days in April and 10 days in July of 2018. Seven researchers took part in snow measurements around Greiner Lake. The project is motivated by the increase in extreme weather events in the Arctic such as rain-on-snow (ROS) events, which change snow characteristics. Those events lead to the formation of ice layers that affect travel on the land and caribou grazing conditions. Several events killed many animals, not only in Canada.
The year 2018 was also a first year of UAV flights for the Université. Flights occurred both during the winter and summer periods, from which snow depth maps can be derived from UAV photos.
The main objective of this project is three-fold: 1) to develop rain-on-snow and ice detection methods using satellite image, 2) use a snow model to simulate caribou grazing conditions and 3) characterize snow from satellites. The short-term use of the data allowed the researchers to validate the snow model. In the long-term, the data collected on the field will be compared to satellites in order to see if they can detect changes in snow conditions (especially those during ROS events) -Université de Sherbrooke .
WaterToday sent email questions to Daniel Kramer one of the PHD students involved in the project. Our questions and his answers can be found below.
WaterToday - Why are you interested measuring the thickness of ice?
Kramer - There are many reasons to measure ice thickness, varying from purely scientific knowledge to real-world applications.
Scientific reasons are mostly related to describing the state of the cryosphere, documenting its changes. The cryosphere is all the frozen parts on the planet, e.g. sea ice, lake ice, glaciers and snow. An accurate descripting of the cryosphere allows then for more accurate simulations for weather forecasting and climate prediction.
This leads to the real-world applications: Besides the forecasting (short- and long-term), it is important to know how much water you have in your ecosystem and in which physical state. For example, hydro-energy in Québec plays a major role and if you want to know how much water you will have in rivers and lakes during the next melt-season, it is important to quantify how much snow and ice you have in the winter. About 2 years ago, we were involved in a project in Ontario to improve flood prevention, or rather prediction in our case.
Another point is road safety: There are many ice roads in Canada and it is very important to determine if the roads are safe or not. This is the same for shipping routes, just the other way around.
Additionally, our radar-system is also used in snow-science, this is actually our main focus. We are working on an algorithm to determine different snow- and ice- layers within the snow pack. One of the main applications here would be avalanche safety, since we do not need to walk to the area anymore to take measurements, as we plan to mount our system on a UAV, commonly known as a drone.
WaterToday -Your group has developed its own UAV, what made you decide to do this? Can you give our viewers an overview of the project?
Kramer - About 1 ½ years ago, we decided to start with UAVs in our group. First, we looked into buying a commercial UAV. You get basic models for maybe 1000 CAD, but advanced models can easily be several 10000 CAD. Additionally, many of them are closed systems, so they are not made to be modified for different research purposes, like switching sensors. Another point is that we mostly work high up in the North, so the environmental conditions are tough and Earths magnetic field disturbs some of the electronics, which makes autonomous flight difficult or impossible.
My supervisor then established a collaboration with a technology-center that is adjunct to our university. They are world leading in UAV-tech and helped us to set up our first model. Buying the components is much cheaper and it gives us additionally the benefit of higher independence in the field, as we know how to repair it or changes sensors for different tasks.
We have now several models available for a fraction of the price. Moreover, if it should get damaged beyond repair, we still have backups to continue our mission.
WaterToday -Why are you involved in ArcticNet?
Kramer - This was my first participation at the ArcticNet conference, but my research group is participating regularly. It is a medium-sized conference, so it is a good opportunity to meet new people, but also have the time to talk to them.
WaterToday -The IPCC has said we will reach a terrible place in ten years, do you feel it’s closer than that? Or is it fairly accurate?
Kramer - In regards to the IPCC-statement:
I try to keep my feelings out of science, as they have no place there. I think it is important to accept what we measure and then make our conclusions based on this. I want to point out that I am not involved in climate prediction work, so I can’t give you “better” answer than the IPCC, esp. not judge if the 10-years-from-now statement is accurate or not.
But as an opinion-piece:
I think one can see that extreme weather events are taking place more and more often and are more intense. However, you can’t really say “Oh this storm now was climate change, but the other one wasn’t.” And even though the trend is generally towards a warming of the atmosphere, there will be periods of cooling, as it is not a linear process. E.g. there are large-scale atmospheric patterns, most famous is probably the El Niño Southern Oscillation, which can influence the weather temporarily in either direction. Finally, if it comes to emissions of greenhouse gasses, I think it is inevitable to cut them down to a more manageable level, but I don’t see too much progress there.
WaterToday -Why are you doing this, when many people have thought there is really nothing we can do about climate change? Would you disagree? I would like to have a younger researcher explain the hope you must have to do what you are doing.
Kramer - -From a very practical point of view, I just really enjoy the work itself, as it is very versatile. It is a combination of sitting in the office, designing and building new devices, taking them to the field to do measurements and then write a paper about it.
From the more philosophical level, I think with science and technology you can really improve the world around you. Once we have developed our device, it can be distributed to e.g. northern communities. They can train their citizens on how to use it and then make use of it, esp. with the low price-tag we are aiming for. I still have to meet one youngster that doesn’t like to fly a UAV. This creates a new perspective and adds to security (e.g. ice road safety). Besides that, you can implement this work in your own projects (citizen scientists). They can collect data for you year-round, whereas we can only be up North for a short time because it is so expensive. Both sides profit from this.
To the second part of your question: Technically, there is a lot we can do. But I think we are missing the will power to follow through. And I am not only talking about the political level. It means changes for each and every one of us. Giving up on living standards we are used too, is very hard. We all got used to cars, exotic vacations and similarly nice treats. It’s like getting a pay raise: It is very easy to spend more money. But if you get a cut in your salary, you wonder how you ever managed with less. It is pretty much the same thing.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that everything is doomed and the time has come to sit in your room and give up. I’d rather go out and fix it.
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