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  • IGBP and Earth observation:
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    The iconic images of Earth beamed back by the earliest spacecraft helped to galvanise interest in our planet’s environment. The subsequent evolution and development of satellites for Earth observation has been intricately linked with that of IGBP and other global-change research programmes, write Jack Kaye and Cat Downy .

Eddy covariance flux measurements with a weight-shift microlight aircraft

Atmospheric Measurement Techniques (2012)

Metzger S, Junkermann W, Mauder M, Beyrich F, Butterbach-Bahl K, Schmid H P and Foken T (2012)

DOI: 10.5194/amtd-5‐2591-2012

Vol 5, pp 2591‐2643


The objective of this study is to assess the feasibility and quality of eddy-covariance flux measurements from a weight-shift microlight aircraft (WSMA). Firstly, we investigate the precision of the wind measurement (σu,v ≤ 0.09 m s−1, σw = 0.04 m s−1), the lynchpin of flux calculations from aircraft. From here, 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. Secondly, a seven-day flight campaign was performed near Lindenberg (Germany). Here we compare measurements of wind, temperature, humidity and respective fluxes between a tall tower and the WSMA. The maximum likelihood functional relationship (MLFR) between tower and WSMA measurements considers the random error in the data, and shows very good agreement of the scalar averages. The MLFRs for standard deviations (SDs, 2–34%) and fluxes (17–21%) indicate higher estimates of the airborne measurements compared to the tower. Considering the 99.5% confidence intervals, the observed differences are not significant, with exception of the temperature SD. The comparison with a large-aperture scintillometer reveals lower sensible heat flux estimates at both tower (−40 to −25%) and WSMA (−25–0%). We relate the observed differences to (i) inconsistencies in the temperature and wind measurement at the tower and (ii) the measurement platforms' differing abilities to capture contributions from non-propagating eddies. These findings encourage the use of WSMA as a low cost and highly versatile flux measurement platform.

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