SkyGas: Development of a new technique for determining watershed/airshed gas fluxes

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Biology


It is now internationally accepted that climate change is a very real and important threat to the future of our ways of life for human populations across the entire planet. This has lead to major societal and policy concerns about human-induced climate change and we lack some very important basic data on the sources and sinks of 'greenhouse gases' (GHGs). Some of the most important GHGs are both released and taken up by terrestrial and aquatic systems and it is very difficult to work out whether a specific area, such as a catchment, is a net source or sink of these gases and how changes in management and climate will affect these balances. It is actually quite embarrassing for environmental scientists when they are unable to state even whether a particular piece of land is a net source or sink of the most common GHGs; despite this, key national and international decisions are currently being made about energy production, transport and (of particular relevance to the current NERC Macronutrient Cycles Programme), land use and catchment management in the absence of this basic knowledge. Unfortunately, we frequently do not have the necessary data because these fluxes are difficult, and labour intensive, to measure and they can change rapidly from place to place and even over the course of a few hours - this high spatial and temporal heterogeneity is a real problem to us. We urgently need new automatic techniques to deal with these measurement problems, and this proposal is a request for the funding necessary to build a new type of automatic GHG measurement system.
Quite often in sports events one catches a glimpse of a 'fly-by-wire' camera, which hovers above the action, rapidly moving from point to point and delivering unique, dynamic birds-eye images of the scenes below. This computer-based 'flying' technology is now well developed and quite commonly used to move cameras, scenery (and occasionally pop stars!) over a variety of very different arenas. Our proposal is quite simple - we wish to apply this kind of technology, for the first time, to make automatic GHG source-sink measurements over complicated landscapes. Not only can this all be automatically pre-programmed to place our specialised 'flux' chambers when and where we want them, it can also be used to deliver treatments, carry special cameras or enable us to create 3-D images of the concentrations of gases over sampling areas. It will mean that we will be able to find 'hotspots' of gas release or uptake. This has never been done before and will take the combined efforts of scientists from three different Departments at the University of York; we have specialists in electronics, helicopter flight control, atmospheric chemistry and ecologist all working together to see if we can build a prototype system here at the University of York. If we can get it to work, the applications are enormous and could become the basis of an entirely new, UK-based technology.

Planned Impact

There are several distinct routes through which the results of the current work will be used to generate maximum impact. The first route is to ensure that the results are published in the highest impact scientific journals and we are convinced that the novel application of this advanced technology will produce a unique and unprecedented dataset worthy of such publication. The PI is also a senior member of staff in the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), which has the primary role of ensuring scientific information is used to inform policy. This is achieved in many ways; through the publication of readily-accessible pamphlets/reports; maintaining an internationally targeted and active web site; specific policy dialogues with politicians ranging from the local and national level (e.g. recent SEI meeting with UK MP in October 2010) through to the international level (e.g. hosting 'side meetings' at the Copenhagen and Cancun COP 16 meetings). SEI employs a specific Climate Change Communications Manager (Marion Davis, Stockholm Office) to ensure broader dissemination of findings from scientific staff at SEI. Many of the SEI staff are also members of a number of international climate change advisory committees (e.g. IPCC, Japan International Cooperation Agency). Additionally, PI is a member of the UK National Centre for Earth Observation community, where there are direct links and joint meetings between the PI and GCM modellers, with two-way dialogue between experimental scientists and modellers informing the structuring and parameterisation of global C cycle models whilst also alerting experimentalists to the data needs of the modellers. In this way, clear pathways link the results from the current project to the GCM modellers/JULES community, through the carbon cycle component of NCEO.
Somewhat unusually, the proposed application of a highly visual, cutting edge technology normally used in the film and entertainment industries will add an extra level of interest from the general public; the University of York Press Office has considerable experience in publicising achievements and this expertise will be applied to the current work, raising more widely the issues of climate change and the global carbon cycle. The successful development of a new approach to environmental monitoring would raise questions about potential commercial opportunities both in the UK and overseas. PI has requested funds to attend a major international scientific meeting (EGU, ESA) towards the end of the project. It is intended that these meetings will act as a 'show case' for this new automated approach to environmental monitoring and, hopefully, generate novel applications and thus stimulating international take-up of this UK-based technology.


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Description We have developed a totally new 'fly-by-wire' technology designed primarily for automatically measuring the greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural and natural syatems. The technology has been further developed made which could become basis for ultra-high precision agriculture.
Exploitation Route We have received addtional funding to build a system as part of the internationally important Swedish ecosystem monitoring SITES infrastructure near Gothenburg. We are taking the concepts forward as one of the SkyLine technologies to be offered by a University spin-out company. The system could easily act as a basis for creating full scale farm systems for use in ultra-precision agriculture and we have gained a small pump priming fund to take the concept forward.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description Technology development of a unique automatic ecosystem monitoring tool which is acting as the base for current grant funding from NERC/Swedish SITES project. As a consequence of this research we are now a key invited memeber to the Swedish SITES project which monitors and investigates environmental change/mitigation options under climate change and we are currently working at two collaborative sites in Sweden.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description BBSRC Agri-food Technology Catalyst Seeding Catalyst
Amount £7,886 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/SCA/York/17 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2017 
End 02/2018
Description COST EU Short Term Scientific Mission
Amount € 1,600 (EUR)
Organisation Dystonia Europe 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country European Union (EU)
Start 02/2016 
End 04/2016
Description EU travel grant
Amount € 2,500 (EUR)
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 05/2014 
End 06/2014
Description NERC Pump Priming
Amount £306,806 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/P008690/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2017 
End 07/2018
Description NERC Research Grant, Innovation
Amount £119,319 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/P016774/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2017 
End 02/2018
Description University of York Early Commercialisation Award
Amount £16,860 (GBP)
Organisation University of York 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2016 
End 06/2016
Title SkyGas and SkyLine technologies 
Description Novel technique for monitoring ecosystems 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Increased monitoring of C fluxes in ecosystems 
Description Automated chamber equipment deployed in Swedish SITES 
Organisation National Taiwan University
Department Department of Earth Sciences
Country Taiwan, Province of China 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Invited to place automated trace gas system developed under NERC funding onto a long term Swedish research site (SITES programme). The EU COST initiative provided a Short Term Scientific Mission grant to enable the exchange. The equipment will be managed locally and will be in place for ca. 1 year.
Collaborator Contribution Provided local accommodation, vehicle and driver, a team of 4 field workers during installation, contribution to travel and accommodation costs. They will maintain and monitor the equipment on a weekly basis, as part of their core measurment programme.
Impact Only just started, but confident that joint database (under SITES) and publications will result.
Start Year 2016
Description Collaborative construction of a SkyGas3D system over Swedish national research site 
Organisation University of Gothenburg
Department Department of Earth Sciences
Country Sweden 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Based on the success of the SkyGas development award in developing a working aerial ecosystem monitoring system, we were asked by the Swedish SITES initiative, we put forward collaborative proposals under the NERC International Opportunities Call 2016 and to the Swedish SITES programme. This has lead to an extremely successful collaborative programme of world-leading research and technical development based at the Skogaryd Lake site near Gothenburg, using 'roving eddy' approaches to quantify plot scale greenhouse gas emissions for the first time.
Collaborator Contribution The research has taken technology developed under previous NERC funding and employed it at one of Sweden's major long-term ecosystem monitoring sites, as part of the SITES initiative. The infrastructure provided by the Swedish collaborators has been 'second to none' and has included provision of electricity to the site, construction of four towers, provision of extremely expensive and cutting-edge greenhouse gas analytical equipment and local planning. Additionally, we have received excellent support by local staff (drivers, engineers, scientists) and free access to the accommodation and facilities at the field sites; indeed, several of our team trips to the site have been fully funded by the collaborators, including flight, local transport and hotel costs.
Impact The project is still on-going and has only produced presentations at scientific meetings, to date.
Start Year 2017
Description Participation in the CLIMAITE experiment 
Organisation Technical University of Denmark
Country Denmark 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Invited participant to complete aspects of carbon isotope tracer experiment
Collaborator Contribution They had established one of the most comprehensive climate change experiments in the world, in which we were funded (travel & subsistence) to bring our equipment and expertise.
Impact Internal report to project
Start Year 2013
Description Royal Academy of Engineering Summer Soiree 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Raised considerable interest with, for example, Greg Dyke (ex BBC Chair) and Chief Constable for North Yorkshire.

Increased engagement of engineers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description Showcasing Skyline2D at Emerging Sensor Technologies event- Glasgow, 3rd May 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact We showcased Skyline at an Emerging Sensor Technologies event in Glagow, interacting with 'spin-out' advisers and potential funders for company development.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018