Published: June 21, 2024

For the second summer in a row, the Division of Public Safety's Flight Operations department is supporting important campus research in Alaska, as part of the Navigating the New Arctic project (principal investigator: Tyler Jones), which is being managed by scientific researchers at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) and funded in part by the National Science Foundation. 

DPS’s own Chase Rupprecht, who serves as the director of flight operations designee, will be in Alaska for about a month this summer, along with the project’s researchers, including Kevin Rozmiarek. Chase will provide UAS support and serve as the team engineer to scientists studying the impact of melting permafrost and its contributions to methane levels in the atmosphere.                                                                                                                                                                                              

“Chase and the flight office, with Dan Hesselius, have been truly critical in helping our geochemistry group do types of science in the air that we are now known for,” said Rozmiarek, who works in the INSTAAR Stable Isotope Lab. 

Last year, Flight Ops supported monitoring of methane levels in a new lake that appeared rapidly over the course of one summer near Fairbanks, Alaska, about sixty  years ago. This summer’s mission will continue to monitor Big Trail Lake, the highest known biogenic emitter of methane gas on the planet. 

The team operates out of a private air strip and research drones must travel through three types of airspace, which makes for a large, complex research operation. 

“It takes five people to fly one science mission,” said Rupprecht, who envisioned and created a modular, four-flask air sample system to allow researchers to collect 16 measurements a day, far more than the previous sampling system allowed. 

Rupprecht, who graduated from CU Boulder in May with a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering and who has been working with Flight Ops since spring of 2022, was able to earn independent study credit in this research partnership with INSTAAR.

“I’ve always been passionate about making things fly,” said Rupprecht. “My work with Flight Ops and INSTAAR has ignited a passion to fight climate change using drones,” he added. 

This year, Flight Ops will deploy an eight-rotor drone, or ‘octo-copter,’ which can collect methane samples vertically, something an airplane can’t do. “Drones are incredible vehicles that allow us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do,” said Rupprecht. “They’re powerful tools that help make our environment safer.” 

Along with supporting scientific research, DPS Flight Ops conducts ground school. Currently, there are about 350 UAS pilots on campus, using approximately 175 drones.     

CU Boulder incoming PhD student Paloma Siegel carries an aircraft away from an Alaskan landing strip after flight                                                    Chase Rupprecht working with a drone at an event on the CU Boulder campus in May 2024