The Modular Aerial Sensing System
Satellite remote sensing has enabled remarkable progress in the ocean, earth, atmospheric, and environmental sciences through its ability to provide global coverage with ever-increasing spatial resolution. While exceptions exist for geostationary ocean color satellites, the temporal coverage of low-Earth-orbiting satellites is not optimal for oceanographic processes that evolve over time scales of hours to days. In hydrology, time scales can range from hours for flash floods, to days for snowfall, to months for the snowmelt into river systems. On even smaller scales, remote sensing of the built environment requires a building-resolving resolution of a few meters or better. For this broad range of phenomena, satellite data need to be supplemented with higher-resolution airborne data that are not tied to the strict schedule of a satellite orbit. To address some of these needs, a novel, portable, high-resolution airborne topographic lidar with video, infrared, and hyperspectral imaging systems was integrated. The system is coupled to a highly accurate GPS-aided inertial measurement unit (GPS IMU), permitting airborne measurements of the sea surface displacement, temperature, and kinematics with swath widths of up to 800 m under the aircraft, and horizontal spatial resolution as low as 0.2 m. These data are used to measure ocean waves, currents, Stokes drift, sea surface height (SSH), ocean transport and dispersion, and biological activity. Hydrological and terrestrial applications include measurements of snow cover and the built environment. This paper describes the system, its performance, and present results from recent oceanographic, hydrological, and terrestrial measurements.