PhD Thesis

Applicability of weight-shift microlight aircraft for measuring the turbulent exchange above complex terrain

Stefan Metzger (07/2009-04/2013)

Support: Thomas Foken

In co-operation with Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT-IFU), Garmisch-Partenkirchen

The possibility to reliably observe the exchange of heat and moisture between the land surface and the atmosphere is vital to our understanding of the regional and global cycling of energy and water. While ground-based flux measurements can be made continuously for long periods, they only represent a small landscape unit. On the other hand, aircraft-based measurements have the ability to directly measure the exchange over large areas. Especially over heterogeneous landscapes the spatiotemporal characteristics of both approaches complement each other. However, complex terrestrial ecosystems are sparsely investigated to date, in particular over topographically structured terrain.

This can be attributed to; (i) limitations in the description of boundary layer processes over nonhomogenous terrain, and (ii) a lack of applicable measurement platforms and techniques to study these processes. In pursue of a resolution strategy, this dissertation investigates the applicability of weight-shift microlight aircraft (WSMA) to gain new insights in the spatial variability of heat and moisture exchange over complex terrain. WSMA are comparatively cheap in procurement and maintenance, and their unique structure provides exceptional transportability and climb rate. These structural features qualify the WSMA for terrainfollowing flight over complex and inaccessible terrain, but potentially influence measurements aboard the aircraft. In this dissertation a WSMA with a scientific payload enabling fast measurements of the 3D wind, temperature, water vapor concentration, position, and the radiative flux is used to;

(i) quantify the WSMA wind measurement uncertainty. A novel time-domain procedure is developed, which improves the accuracy of the WSMA wind measurement by 63% for the horizontal- and 72% for the vertical wind components. The resulting precisions are ±0.09 m s−1 and ±0.04 m s−1, and the agreement with ground-based measurements is in the order of ±0.4 m s−1 and ±0.3 m s−1 (root mean square deviation), respectively.

(ii) quantify the WSMA eddy-covariance flux measurement uncertainty. From uncertainty propagation the smallest resolvable changes in friction velocity (0.02 m s−1), and sensible- (5 W m−2) and latent (3 W m−2) heat flux are estimated. In comparison to tower measurements, the WSMA observes higher fluxes (17–21%). The differences are not statistically significant, and can be explained by the tower setup and non-propagating eddies.

(iii) spatially resolve and regionalize the heat and moisture exchange above a complex landscape. Wavelet decomposition of the turbulence data is used to yield a flux observation each 90 m along the flight path. For each flux observation the biophysical surface properties in the flux footprint are determined. An environmental response function between the flux observations and biophysical and meteorological drivers is then inferred using a machine learning technique. This function is used to produce regional maps of the heat and moisture exchange to an accuracy of ≤18% and a precision of ≤5% for individual land covers. 

Hence this dissertation provides the necessary basis for using WSMA to investigate the mechanisms of turbulent exchange over heterogeneous and topographically structured terrain. Moreover, the developed algorithms are generally applicable to (i) partitioning flux uncertainty and environmental variability, (ii) extrapolating flux measurements, (iii) assessing the spatial representativeness of longterm tower flux measurements, and (iv) designing, constraining and evaluating flux algorithms for remote sensing and numerical modeling applications.

last modified 2014-02-06