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Drone surveying ice melt on the Greenland ice sheet

The Greenland ice sheet is 1.7 million km2 (6.6 million mi2) large, covering almost 80% of the country. It is the second largest ice body in the world, after the Antarctic ice sheet. In 2012, 97% of its very top layer melted. The last time this happened was in 1889.

“This is such a rare event and it has become more frequent. In 2019, the melt happened again to almost the same degree,” said Horst Machguth, a researcher with the Université de Fribourg/Universität Freiburg’s Department of Geoscience. “And if there is more melt, then we are interested in understanding what happens to this meltwater.”

We want to understand where the water is, and this becomes much clearer in the multispectral images. With WingtraOne we can cover relatively large distances flying high. You can’t fly at 400 m with a quad copter because you get up there and you are out of batteries.

Horst Machguth
Researcher with the University of Fribourg

This summer, Machguth and his European Research Council-funded team started mapping melt-prone areas of the ice sheet with the WingtraOne and its MicaSense RedEdge-MX payload. The VTOL fixed-wing capabilities enabled them to fly at an altitude of 400 m (1300 ft) above the ice—with a permit—to gather data.

The team is still processing the first round of data, but will be gathering more.

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