First drone flies over the North Pole in the name of climate science

Drones have been flown into volcanoes, wildfires, and the Amazon in the name of science, but until this year, nobody had successfully flown a drone over the North Pole. That changed this fall when Roberta Pirazzini and Henna-Reetta Hannula piloted a drone over the Arctic’s northernmost region to study climate change’s effect on melting ice up close. 

Their expedition focused on analyzing surface albedo, the amount of sunlight reflected from the ice, which plays a big role in solar radiation absorption. 

After training at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, the pair designed a drone capable of withstanding the Arctic’s extreme temperatures and headed north. After overcoming issues with freezing blades and navigation fingers locked with cold, the two were able to successfully conduct 18 flights over three weeks. 

Their data on albedo is vitally important for understanding how to preserve the Earth’s northern icecap, which is heating about three times faster than the rest of the planet. Melting ice forms a positive feedback loop in which water absorbs more solar radiation than ice, transferring more heat to the environment, which in turn melts, even more, ice and perpetuates this circle. Fortunately, drones have the potential to offer the most detailed picture of this process to date with real-time, close proximity data on ice conditions. 

The climate is changing at a dramatic rate, but more information on these conditions leads to more solutions and more action. We look forward to seeing the innovations that come out of this novel field of climate research.

Image source: Bloomberg

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