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News Release

Using small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to successfully observe melting polar glaciers around Greenland due to global warming

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  • Registration Date 2021-09-30
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Using small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to successfully observe melting polar glaciers around Greenland due to global warming
- Glacier observation flights using small UAVs through technology cooperation between Korea and Denmark -

□ The Ministry of Science & ICT (Minister Lim Hye-sook, MSIT) announced that the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) led the successful test flight to observe polar glaciers in Greenland from September 10 to 14, 2021.
ㅇ The study was done as a follow-up to the bilateral agreement for cooperation in polar research using autonomous vehicles at the Korea-Denmark Summit (October 20, 2018).
- The joint research was led by KARI and conducted in collaboration with the Korea Polar Research Institute (KOPRI) of the Korea Institute of Ocean Science & Technology (KIOST) and the Danish Space Development Agency (DTU Space).
ㅇ Primarily, this study aims to develop the semi-wide observation and data analysis technology to complement the limitations (i.e. low resolution, prolonged re-visitation intervals, etc.) of the existing satellite and small drone observation technology to observe melting glaciers in the polar region around Greenland, which is identified as the main cause of rising sea levels due to global warming.
- Specifically, its goal is to measure meteorological data (i.e. temperature, humidity, and wind direction/speed at each altitude) over the glaciers using a meteorological measurement drone for the integrated analysis of weather information over glaciers that cannot be observed by satellites.

□ To this end, KARI, KOPRI, DTU Space, and AMP, the drone manufacturer, jointly conducted an observation test flight for the Russel Glacier* area using three small Korea-developed UAVs at the Kangerlussuaq airfield and nearby areas.
* Continental glacier flowing westward from the ice sheets in Greenland and retreating into the interior of Greenland at a rate of 25 m per year due to global warming.
- Two types of unmanned aerial vehicles (i.e. UMAC Air and AMP) were developed as part of the Future Core Technology Development for Autonomous Vehicles Project by MSIT.
ㅇ KARI disclosed that the test flight performed an analysis of UAV operation in the polar environment and a navigation performance test, and captured glacial terrain mapping images. It was particularly significant for proving the performance of domestic UAVs under extreme conditions*.
* (① Extreme magnetic field instability, ② unavailable GPS signal, ③ low temperature/strong wind environment, etc.)

□ KARI plans to continue climate change research, including observing melting glaciers in the polar regions around Greenland until 2023 based on the Strategic International Joint Research Project funded by MSIT’s R&D support program and the original technologies related to autonomous vehicles developed by MSIT. It also plans to test the performance of a hydrogen-fueled UAV in development.
ㅇ KOPRI emphasized that the observation of melting glaciers on the ice sheet surfaces around Greenland using UAVs could be used to verify climate change and present alternative measures showing that the ice sheet loss rate in Greenland, which is the main cause of increasing sea levels, has increased six times in the past 10 years (UN IPCC Assessment Report).
ㅇ Moreover, the Satellite Remote Sensing and Cryosphere Information Center plans to analyze the Russel Glaciers using the analysis technology accumulated through a wide range of studies on cryosphere changes in polar ice cap region, such as the first production of high-resolution elevation map of sea ice surface using UAVs.
* (A map that provides the heights of the terrain in numbers)

□ “We look forward to the continued technology cooperation between Korea and Denmark to pave the way for domestic UAVs to enter the polar scientific exploration industry,” said Kim Seong-gyu, the International Cooperation Officer at MSIT.
ㅇ “We expect that cooperation between KOPRI and the domestic drone manufacturers will lead to developing extreme UAV operation technology by securing the flight technology capable of operating in extreme polar conditions for small domestic UAVs,” said Kang Wang-gu, head of the research team at KARI.
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