Intercomparison of small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) measurements for atmospheric science during the LAPSE-RATE campaign

Lindsay Barbieri, Stephan T. Kral, Sean C.C. Bailey, Amy E. Frazier, Jamey D. Jacob, Joachim Reuder, David Brus, Phillip B. Chilson, Christopher Crick, Carrick Detweiler, Abhiram Doddi, Jack Elston, Hosein Foroutan, Javier González-Rocha, Brian R. Greene, Marcelo I. Guzman, Adam L. Houston, Ashraful Islam, Osku Kemppinen, Dale LawrenceElizabeth A. Pillar-Little, Shane D. Ross, Michael P. Sama, David G. Schmale, Travis J. Schuyler, Ajay Shankar, Suzanne W. Smith, Sean Waugh, Cory Dixon, Steve Borenstein, Gijs De Boer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) are rapidly transforming atmospheric research. With the advancement of the development and application of these systems, improving knowledge of best practices for accurate measurement is critical for achieving scientific goals. We present results from an intercomparison of atmospheric measurement data from the Lower Atmospheric Process Studies at Elevation—a Remotely piloted Aircraft Team Experiment (LAPSE-RATE) field campaign. We evaluate a total of 38 individual sUAS with 23 unique sensor and platform configurations using a meteorological tower for reference measurements. We assess precision, bias, and time response of sUAS measurements of temperature, humidity, pressure, wind speed, and wind direction. Most sUAS measurements show broad agreement with the reference, particularly temperature and wind speed, with mean value differences of 1.6 ±2.6 °C and 0.22 ± 0.59 m/s for all sUAS, respectively. sUAS platform and sensor configurations were found to contribute significantly to measurement accuracy. Sensor configurations, which included proper aspiration and radiation shielding of sensors, were found to provide the most accurate thermodynamic measurements (temperature and relative humidity), whereas sonic anemometers on multirotor platforms provided the most accurate wind measurements (horizontal speed and direction). We contribute both a characterization and assessment of sUAS for measuring atmospheric parameters, and identify important challenges and opportunities for improving scientific measurements with sUAS.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2179
JournalSensors (Switzerland)
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments: Support for the planning and execution of the campaign was provided by the NOAA Physical Sciences Division, the NOAA UAS Program and the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the National Weather Service. The support of UAS Colorado and local government agencies (Alamosa County, Saguache County) was critical in securing site permissions and other local logistics. Important observational assets were deployed in support of this campaign, and we wish to thank Julie K. Lundquist, Patrick Murphy, and Camden Plunkett for the deployment and operation of the Doppler lidar systems.

Funding Information:
Funding: This research was funded by general support from the US National Science Foundation grant number AGS 1807199, and the US Department of Energy grant number DE-SC0018985, in the form of travel support for early career participants. Partial support for this work was provided by the US National Science Foundation grant number CBET-1351411 and by US National Science Foundation grant number 1539070, Collaboration Leading Operational UAS Development for Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics (CLOUD-MAP). Institutional participation and data used in this paper were supported by grants to: D.G.S., S.D.R., and H.F from the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science at Virginia Tech; D.G.S and S.D.R from the US National Science Foundation grant number AGS 1520825; O.K. from the US National Science Foundation grant number AGS 1665456; D.L. from the National Science Foundation grant number AGS 1632829; S.T.K’s from the ISOBAR project funded by the Research Council of Norway under the FRINATEK scheme project number 251042/F20; L.B. from the University of Vermont’s REACH program. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsors.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Atmospheric measurements
  • SUAS
  • Sensor intercomparison
  • UAV
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles
  • Unmanned aircraft systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Information Systems
  • Biochemistry
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Instrumentation
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Intercomparison of small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) measurements for atmospheric science during the LAPSE-RATE campaign'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this