MEMO2: MEthane goes MObile – MEsurements and MOdelling


Katarina Vinkovic – Drone race with COVID-19

Drones are already for some time present in the scientific community, basically, they are the eyes and ears of scientists around the world. Their wide range of applications, from military purposes to atmospheric research (like in our case), makes them incredibly popular.

In our MEMO2 consortium there are two groups using drones as their measurement tool, the University of Groningen (UG) and Swiss Federal Laboratories for Material Science and Technology (EMPA). Probably you are having a thought, wouldn’t be great to have a chance to compare those two systems and learn from each other? And the answer is – YES, therefore, I visited EMPA, which is located in Dübendorf, Switzerland, from mid-February to mid-March this year for my secondment. The main goal of the secondment was to compare our Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Active AirCore system with EMPA’s QCLAS system. The main difference between those two systems is that EMPA has an in-situ instrument, while UG’s Active AirCore system is collecting air samples using ~ 50 m long coil. After landing, collected air samples are quickly analyzed with a trace gas analyzer. We decided that the best way to do the comparison study is to set a controlled CH4 release experiment, and in that way, we also could validate our methods.

Figure 1: (left) Both UG and EMPA systems mounted to the drone. (middle, right) The experimental setup for a controlled CH4 release experiment in the field.

Even though we were in the wintertime, the weather has been kind to us, allowing us to have 12 days of measurements in total. The release experiment was performed on an open field nearby Dübendorf, where 30 flights have been conducted with both systems on the drone. To conclude, the secondment was very successful despite the time race that we had with the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe.

Doing science in other countries gives us a great opportunity to explore new places and cultures, therefore, visiting Switzerland without going to the beautiful Alps wasn’t an option. In the end, I prepared a small compilation of photos that I have collected during the secondment, hopefully, you will enjoy them as much as I enjoyed my stay! Stay healthy, stay safe!