Measuring the effects of ozone in the forest canopy using aerial unmanned vehicles

Tropospheric ozone is a man-made air pollutant that harms living things and the environment. While it is well understood that the impacts of ozone are negative, scientists have less insight about what exactly ozone does to the ecosystem.

Experimental evidence shows that ozone exposure particularly harms plants and their ability to photosynthesize, which is the process by which plants use sunlight and carbon dioxide to create energy. Because this data was collected in a controlled laboratory setting, there is currently little understanding of the relationship between ozone and photosynthesis in the environment.

Researchers from the Department of Environmental Sciences and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering are partnering with the Virginia Forest Laboratory (VFL) to conduct a novel ecosystem-scale experiment at a forty-meter research tower built at the VFL.

Presidential Fellows in Data Science Laura Barry, Tingyang Meng and Jessica Munyan are investigating ozone emissions and photosynthesis rates by using the eddy-covariance (EC) technique, which is a statistical method used to measure trace exchange rates and gases in an environment and an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone.

Forest ecosystems are vast and varied, making this research crucial to the understanding of ozone-Photosynthesis interactions. The researchers have designated fixed locations throughout the landscape to account for variations in density and composition throughout the forest area. Their findings have the potential to revolutionize the techniques and models used to study forest pollutants.

Over the past several months, the researchers have mounted measuring devices on the UAV and conducted test flights. They will begin flights over the forest canopy this spring and throughout this summer and fall to collect data.

Completed in:
Ongoing
Advisors:

Zongli Lin (Electrical and Computer Engineering)
Sally Pusede (Environmental Sciences)

Sponsors:

Data Science Institute
Department of Postdoctoral and Graduate Affairs