Sampling methane and CO2 in the South Atlantic using UAVs

Rick Thomas

Dr Rick Thomas is part of a team of scientists and engineers who have successfully sampled methane and CO2 gases in the remote South Atlantic with the aid of an autonomous UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) octocopter.

The team, which has recently returned from a second research trip to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, included Dr Rick Thomas from the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at Birmingham, as well as researchers from Bristol University and Royal Holloway, University of London.

Having visited the island last year, the team redesigned the payload of the UAV octocopter so that they would be able to sample not only methane, but CO2 using a unique pressurised system. This involved evacuating flasks at ground level, then over-pressuring these at altitudes specified during the ascent.

Dr Thomas worked closely with Dr Colin Greatwood to design the system for sampling gases. This allowed them to significantly extend the results from their first campaign. He commented: “This is a fantastic extension to our existing system, which enabled us to sample a much wider range of gases than we have been able to before.  Not only for this project, but also for future projects in the pipeline.”

During their visit the team carried out multiple flights above the inversion, including two local demonstration flights. With over 100 successful flights in Ascension over two campaigns, they are delighted with their success and are already planning future projects.