Biotelemetry/Bio-aerial-platforms for the Urban Boundary Layer

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography, Earth & Env Sciences

Abstract

Attempts to improve the urban component in meteorology and numerical weather prediction models in recent years have been hampered by a paucity of meteorological data in the urban boundary layer (UBL), especially in the region above, but close to, building height. This region is precisely where local energy balances and drag combine with prevailing synoptic patterns to transmit fluid dynamical information up and down spatial scales, with implications for (i) urban weather prediction, (ii) event forecasting (e.g. heatwaves, climatic conditions during sporting events, releases of hazardous substances), and (iii) sustainable urban planning for high density liveable cities. However, capturing meteorological data in urban areas above the mean roof height is problematic using conventional techniques.

We propose Biotelemetry/bio-aerial-platforms as a novel and practicable solution to the data paucity above urban rooftops in the UBL, and to circumvent the regulatory issues related to use of unmanned aerial systems. We will develop a suite of low-cost Avian-Meteorology-Instrument Packages (AvMIPs) for ensemble deployment in Birmingham as a suitably large and heterogeneous test case. The AvMIPs will be tested rigorously to determine: (i) data biases and reliability; (ii) sensor response to temperature variations; (iii) effect of radiation; and (iv) effect of bird's body temperature and other 'platform effects'. After quality assurance and control of the packages have been determined to be adequate, the primary targets of the AvMIP deployment will be the thermal and moisture structures of the UBL at the city and neighbourhood scales. Favourable weather conditions for deployment will be identified via pre-deployment modelling using a mesoscale meteorological model (WRF, Weather Research and Forecasting). Subsequent analysis and interpretation of the AvMIP data and synthesis of the data together with Birmingham's canyon (3m) meteorological data will be assisted by post-deployment modelling for the measurement periods. Overall, this project will deliver a novel, and rigorously tested, technology for probing the UBL. A unique dataset for the UBL of a major European conurbation will be obtained, elucidating climate mitigation issues such as the cooling (or heating) capability/capacity of a large park (or a city centre) to a city's UBL, and scientific issues such as the magnitude of the 'blending height' at which the effect of urban surface heterogeneity is no longer detectable. Success of the project will be a necessary step towards deployment of chemical sensors, and lead to generation of unprecedented datasets of the urban atmosphere for both research and city-planning purposes.

Novel field deployments of the kind we propose require strong partnerships with a wide variety of stakeholders. The Royal Pigeon Racing Association (RPRA) provide critical support in terms of birds that will behave in well determined ways. The RPRA have experience of mounting payloads on pigeons and so can ensure that our payloads are appropriately in size, weight, etc., and that our pigeon deployments will deliver the data we seek.

Birmingham City Council will support the project in three ways:
1. As one of the principal end-users of our results (feeding into improved diagnosis and forecasting of urban climatology across the city through the joint city-university BUCCANEER project);
2. In order to facilitate use of birds in open urban spaces such as parks; and
3. In order to facilitate access to city buildings on which gulls are nesting.

Dr Stefan Bodnar, an ecological consultant, will support the project by acting as principal bird handler and as a consultant for public dissemination of our work.

Planned Impact

In order to attempt the proposed work, a network of stakeholders has been assembled, and these stakeholders have helped us shape the proposed programme of work. We identify four kinds of non-academic beneficiaries of the work we propose:
(i) stakeholders engaged in planning and regulatory aspects of the urban environment, as exemplified by Birmingham City Council;
(ii) stakeholders charged with responding to emergency atmospheric event/response management, including first responders (e.g., Ambulance);
(iii) the general public, as end users of the urban environment and receptors of urban heat stresses; and
(iv) commercial sensor manufacturers.
Each stakeholder set has different interests in our work, which are, respectively:
(i) improved characterisation of how the urban fabric affects the physical and chemical climatology of the lowest parts of the atmosphere in urban areas;
(ii) improved characterisation of how the urban fabric affects numerical forecasting on short timescales for weather (and for pollutant dispersion);
(iii) concern that the environmental quality of cities are being adequately monitored and that the causes of poor environmental health and well-being are identified; and
(iv) interest in the potential to develop commercial sensor packages.
These different stakeholder interests imply that we engage with each stakeholder group differently, as outlined in the Pathways to Impact.

Other impacts include:
a) PDRA Staff - exposure and development of state-of-the-art miniaturised technology applicable to an increasing field of industrial/scientific UAS (Unmanned aerial systems) use. Named researcher Thomas brings with him a global technology lead from working with Prof Ramanathan in Scripps Institute of Oceanography and this project will embed the technology lead in the UK.
b) Technological benefits could be realized within 3 years via TRL 8 packages. Benefits to public interests from this project begin with outreach work and culminate in feedbacks to city planning on a decadal timescale.

Publications

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Thomas R (2017) Avian Sensor Packages for Meteorological Measurements in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society

 
Guideline Title Air pollution: outdoor air quality and health (Evidence review 1)
Description NICE recommendations on air quality
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in clinical guidelines
URL https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/indevelopment/gid-phg92
 
Description Advanced Training Short Course
Amount £73,157 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/P020623/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 04/2017 
End 03/2019
 
Description Advanced Training Short Course
Amount £44,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/N019032/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 04/2016 
End 03/2017
 
Description RPRA 
Organisation Royal Pigeon Racing Association
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The University of Birmingham team will develop the payload system and modify the system based on feedback from RPRA and pigeon owners; will organise assessment of birds' ability to carry the packages, training for carrying the packages, and deployment of measurement campaigns; and will conduct ethical assessment of using pigeon to carry the packages.
Collaborator Contribution RPRA will help establish links with the pigeon owner community and advertise the recruitment for volunteers. Selected pigeon owners will support assessment of birds' ability to carry the packages, training for carrying the packages, and deployment of measurement campaigns.
Impact 1) A working relationship has been established with a pigeon farm; 2) Payload design has been tested and modified; 3) A one-day field test has been conducted on 21 Feb 2017; 4) BBC filmed the maiden flight on 21 Feb 2017. This collaboration is apparently multi-disciplinary.
Start Year 2016
 
Description BBC Breakfast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact On 20 Feb 2017, BBC filmed the successful "maiden flight" of the sensor packages on the back of pigeons in Royal Pigeon Racing Association's One Loft. On 7 March 2017, the filmed flight together with a TV interview with Rick Thomas was broadcast in BBC Breakfast.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description C&EN Article on environmental use of drones 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The field intensives in Ascension carried out as part of the Southern Methane Anomaly project were featured heavily (including a photograph of Ascension taken from the UAV) in an article in Chemical and Engineering News, a professional-practice journal of the American Chemical Society.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://cen.acs.org/articles/94/i9/drones-help-us-study-climate.html
 
Description Midlands Today 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In the evening programme of Midlands Today on 7 March 2017, the "maiden flight" of the sensor packages on the back of pigeons was broadcast.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Op-ed (Action on Air Quality: does the government get it?) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Editorial in the online _Birmingham Brief_ site, commenting on the UK government response to the Action on Air Quality report of its Environmental Audit Committee.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/thebirminghambrief/items/2015/03/air-quality-05-03-15.aspx
 
Description Op-ed (drones) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Article for the online magazine _The Conversation on the scientific use of unmanned aerial vehicles: "Of all the existential anxieties addressed by drones, war is only the most obvious".

3 comments generated.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://theconversation.com/not-just-weapons-of-war-drones-hold-much-potential-for-civilians-18933
 
Description Workshop: Overcoming obstacles to high density resilient cities 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Two Co-Is of this NERC-funded project, Profs Lee Chapman and Rob MacKenzie, were invited speakers and panellists at the workshop, which is organised by CIBSE(Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers), the ARCC network (Adaptation and Resilience in the Context of Change Network (hosted by UKCIP and funded by the EPSRC)), and London Climate Change Partnership, at City Hall, London.
65 policy, practice and research professionals attended. In addition to registered delegates, members of the GLA Development, Enterprise & Environment team were invited to dip in and out; some did.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.cibse.org/training-events/event?id=a1E0O00001Vat7sUAB