Coordinated Sampling of Microorganisms Over Freshwater and Saltwater Environments Using an Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) and a Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS)


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Biological aerosols (bioaerosols) are ubiquitous in terrestrial and aquatic environments and may influence cloud formation and precipitation processes. Little is known about the aerosolization and transport of bioaerosols from aquatic environments. We designed and deployed a bioaerosol-sampling system onboard an unmanned surface vehicle (USV; a remotely operated boat) to collect microbes and monitor particle sizes in the atmosphere above a salt pond in Falmouth, MA, United States and a freshwater lake in Dublin, VA, United States. The bioaerosol-sampling system included a series of 3D-printed impingers, two different optical particle counters, and a weather station. A small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS; a remotely operated airplane) was used in a coordinated effort with the USV to collect microorganisms on agar media 50 m above the surface of the water. Samples from the USV and sUAS were cultured on selective media to estimate concentrations of culturable microorganisms (bacteria and fungi). Concentrations of microbes from the sUAS ranged from 6 to 9 CFU/m3 over saltwater, and 12 to 16 CFU/m3 over freshwater (over 10-min sampling intervals) at 50 m above ground level (AGL). Concentrations from the USV ranged from 0 (LOD) to 42,411 CFU/m3 over saltwater, and 0 (LOD) to 56,809 CFU/m3 over freshwater (over 30-min sampling intervals) in air near the water surface. Particle concentrations recorded onboard the USV ranged from 0 (LOD) to 288 μg/m3 for PM1, 1 to 290 μg/m3 for PM2.5, and 1 to 290 μg/m3 for PM10. A general trend of increasing concentration with an increase in particle size was recorded by each sensor. Through laboratory testing, the collection efficiency of the 3D-printed impingers was determined to be 75% for 1 μm beads and 99% for 3 μm beads. Additional laboratory tests were conducted to determine the accuracy of the miniaturized optical particle counters used onboard the USV. Future work aims to understand the distribution of bioaerosols above aquatic environments and their potential association with cloud formation and precipitation processes.



Aerosol, Bioaerosol, Ice nucleation, Particulates, Pseudomonas, Unmanned vehicle, 3D printing, Impinger