(Biotelemetry/Bio-aerial platforms in the Urban Boundary Layer)

Attempts to improve the urban component in weather prediction models have been hampered by a lack of meteorological data in the urban boundary layer (UBL), especially in the region above, but close to, building height. CityFlocks aims to directly address this data sparsity issue by developing and deploying meteorological instrument payloads on birds, primarily on pigeons. This approach circumvents the regulatory issues related to use of Unmanned Aerial Systems in urban areas.

About the project


CityFlocks aims to directly address the data sparsity issue in the urban boundary layer (UBL), especially in the region above, but close to, building height. This region is precisely where the exchange of energy and pollutants occurs between the urban canopy below and the UBL aloft, with implications for:

  1. urban weather prediction;
  2. event forecasting (eg. heatwaves, climatic conditions during sporting events, releases of hazardous substances); and
  3. sustainable urban planning for high density liveable cities.

Research questions

  1. Can biotelemetry/bio-aerial-platforms be used to deliver observations of temperature, humidity and wind speed in the UBL with accuracy and precision sufficient for research?
  2. Can the data derived from biotelemetry/bioaerial-platforms be used to inform the structure of the UBL at the city scale and the local IBLs at neighbourhood scales?
  3. If so, what is the cooling (or heating) capability of a large park (or a city centre) to a city’s UBL?
  4. How do such measurements compare to results derived from a numerical weather prediction (NWP) model?
  5. What lessons can be learnt to assess the feasibility of other payloads (e.g. chemical sensors)?


The research team propose Biotelemetry/bio-aerial-platforms as a novel and practicable solution to the data paucity above urban rooftops in the UBL.

They will develop a suite of low-cost Avian-Meteorology-Instrument Packages (AvMIPs) for ensemble deployment in Birmingham as a suitably large and heterogeneous test case. The AvMIPs will be tested rigorously to determine:

  1. data biases and reliability;
  2. sensor response to temperature variations;
  3. the effect of radiation; and
  4. the effect of a bird’s body temperature and other ‘platform effects’.

After quality assurance and control of the packages have been determined to be adequate, the primary targets of the AvMIP deployment will be the thermal and moisture structures of the UBL at the city and neighbourhood scales. Favourable weather conditions for deployment will be identified via pre-deployment modelling using a mesoscale meteorological model. Subsequent analysis and interpretation of the AvMIP data and synthesis of the data together with Birmingham’s canyon (3m) meteorological data will be assisted by post-deployment modelling for the measurement periods.


Overall, this project will deliver a novel, and rigorously tested, technology for probing the UBL. A unique dataset for the UBL of a major European conurbation will be obtained, elucidating climate mitigation issues such as the cooling (or heating) capability of a large park (or a city centre) to a city’s UBL. Success of the project will be a necessary step towards deployment of chemical sensors, and lead to a generation of unprecedented datasets of the urban atmosphere for both research and city-planning purposes.

Project funding

Total project funding for the University of Birmingham: £826,481 of which £661,185 is funded by NERC.

Team members