Unmanned aerial vehicles reveal the impact of a total solar eclipse on the atmospheric surface layer

Sean C.C. Bailey, Caleb A. Canter, Michael P. Sama, Adam L. Houston, Suzanne Weaver Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


We use unmanned aerial vehicles to interrogate the surface layer processes during a solar eclipse and gain a comprehensive look at the changes made to the atmospheric surface layer as a result of the rapid change of insolation. Measurements of the atmospheric surface layer structure made by the unmanned systems are connected to surface measurements to provide a holistic view of the impact of the eclipse on the near-surface behaviour, large-scale turbulent structures and small-scale turbulent dynamics. Different regimes of atmospheric surface layer behaviour were identified, with the most significant impact including the formation of a stable layer just after totality and evidence of Kelvin-Helmholtz waves appearing at the interface between this layer and the residual layer forming above it. The decrease in surface heating caused a commensurate decrease in buoyant turbulent production, which resulted in a rapid decay of the turbulence in the atmospheric surface layer both within the stable layer and in the mixed layer forming above it. Significant changes in the wind direction were imposed by the decrease in insolation, with evidence supporting the formation of a nocturnal jet, as well as backing of the wind vector within the stable layer.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20190212
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Issue number2229
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Data accessibility. Data are currently available through the following cloud storage link: https://www.dropbox. com/sh/qjt1tmpxtfemdqw/AABiwiuoDO9Mn8XzBoAzd_6Ha?dl=0. Authors’ contributions. A.L.H. and S.W.S. designed the study and managed the logistical organization. C.A.C. and M.P.S. conducted the measurements. S.C.C.B. performed the analysis. All authors contributed to the interpretation and preparation of the final manuscript. Competing interests. We declare we have no competing interests. Funding. This work was supported by the US National Science Foundation through award no. CBET-1351411 and by award no. 1539070, Collaboration Leading Operational UAS Development for Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics (CLOUDMAP). Acknowledgements. The authors thank Ryan Nolin, Jonathan Hamilton, Robert Singler, Harrison Wight and Christina Vezzi, who maintained and flew the unmanned vehicles used in this study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.


  • Atmospheric surface layer
  • Eclipse
  • Measurements
  • Turbulence
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mathematics (all)
  • Engineering (all)
  • Physics and Astronomy (all)


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