A Method for Detecting Atmospheric Lagrangian Coherent Structures Using a Single Fixed-Wing Unmanned Aircraft System
The transport of material through the atmosphere is an issue with wide ranging implications for fields as diverse as agriculture, aviation, and human health. Due to the unsteady nature of the atmosphere, predicting how material will be transported via the Earth’s wind field is challenging. Lagrangian diagnostics, such as Lagrangian coherent structures (LCSs), have been used to discover the most significant regions of material collection or dispersion. However, Lagrangian diagnostics can be time-consuming to calculate and often rely on weather forecasts that may not be completely accurate. Recently, Eulerian diagnostics have been developed which can provide indications of LCS and have computational advantages over their Lagrangian counterparts. In this paper, a methodology is developed for estimating local Eulerian diagnostics from wind velocity data measured by a single fixed-wing unmanned aircraft system (UAS) flying in a circular arc. Using a simulation environment, driven by realistic atmospheric velocity data from the North American Mesoscale (NAM) model, it is shown that the Eulerian diagnostic estimates from UAS measurements approximate the true local Eulerian diagnostics and also predict the passage of LCSs. This methodology requires only a single flying UAS, making it easier and more affordable to implement in the field than existing alternatives, such as multiple UASs and Dopler LiDAR measurements. Our method is general enough to be applied to calculate the gradient of any scalar field.