Astronauts can ‘see’ your nightmares as data drips into space and from airplanes

Immediately following Hurricane Florence, scientists from NASA (and a team of hackers) used a swarm of tiny flying robots called Self-Determined Assisted Aerial Vehicles to gather data from the site of the hurricane’s landfall — and from the cloud over the area. The first such mission could not only create the world’s largest cloud of interconnected data but also map the carbon absorption and release as the storm passed over.

But far from gathering information on the storm’s destruction, the Self-Determined Assisted Aerial Vehicles were instead helping scientists to find the fingerprints of the hurricane. Following images of Florence’s storm surge, data from the drones’ weather charts allowed scientists to narrow down the sites of the flooding. For instance, storms generally drop water where there are ice dams around the shoreline. In areas like this, the drone mapped out how much water flowed into ditches located around the shoreline. This is great information for forecasters, who have improved their estimates of the size of rainstorms as a result of better data. Because of Hurricane Florence, NASA’s database for this data is an enormous 9,000 times greater than the average for any single landfalling storm — more than twice the size of all of the atmospheric data collected by humans worldwide.

When looking into next-generation possibilities, such data-dense sensors for satellites will be essential for new, climate-ready ideas for forecasting hurricanes — like taking the same satellites to the coasts of the East Coast and detecting radar echoes to better understand the storm’s subsurface dynamic effects. In one particular initiative, drones could survey Arctic streams and roads, revealing unique features, like the way melting ice depress the ice surface.

But perhaps the most exciting scenario for the drone research is the coming with tropical storms and hurricanes. On the surface, drones could be a great way to collect data in the event of high winds and rains. With larger machines, the best purpose would be to gather the highest image-quality in a more specific area, potentially to help meteorologists forgo costly methods of evaluating the region. Another possible near-term use would be mapping out farms in and around coasts, where so much crop damage and crop failure could occur if foreign visitors don’t tend their crops. A smaller drone could do most of the work for a crowd and could in fact help reunite the lost.

In a future that could prove groundbreaking for weather forecasting, NASA says it plans to test a new aerial search-and-rescue system in the coming months.

Read the full story at The Atlantic.

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