Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 25, Issue 13, pp 13195–13202 | Cite as

Adaption and use of a quadcopter for targeted sampling of gaseous mercury in the atmosphere

  • Oscar Black
  • Jingjing Chen
  • Austin Scircle
  • Ying Zhou
  • James V. Cizdziel
Short Research and Discussion Article


We modified a popular and inexpensive quadcopter to collect gaseous mercury (Hg) on gold-coated quartz cartridges, and analyzed the traps using cold vapor atomic fluorescence spectrometry. Flight times averaged 16 min, limited by battery life, and yielded > 5 pg of Hg, well above the limit of detection (< 0.2 pg). We measured progressively higher concentrations upon both vertical and lateral approaches to a dish containing elemental Hg, demonstrating that the method can detect Hg emissions from a point source. Using the quadcopter, we measured atmospheric Hg near anthropogenic emission sources in the mid-south USA, including a municipal landfill, coal-fired power plant (CFPP), and a petroleum refinery. Average concentrations (± standard deviation) immediately downwind of the landfill were higher at ground level and 30 m compared to 60 and 120 m (5.3 ± 0.5 ng m−3, 5.4 ± 0.7 ng m−3, 4.2 ± 0.7 ng m−3, and 2.5 ± 0.3 ng m−3, respectively). Concentrations were also higher at an urban/industrial area (Memphis) (3.3 ± 0.9 ng m−3) compared with a rural/background area (1.5 ± 0.2 ng m−3). Due to airspace flight restrictions near the CFPP and refinery, we were unable to access near-field (stack) plumes and did not observe differences between upwind and downwind locations. Overall, this study demonstrates that highly maneuverable multicopters can be used to probe Hg concentrations aloft, which may be particularly useful for evaluating Hg emissions from remote landscapes and transient sources that are inadequately characterized and leading to uncertainties in ecosystem budgets.


Atmospheric mercury Landfill Unmanned aerial vehicle Multicopter Coal-fired power plant Petroleum refinery Cold vapor atomic fluorescence spectrometry 



We are grateful to Tekran Inc. and Brooks Rand Instruments for helpful advice and technical support, and several anonymous landowners for allowing us to sample from their private property. We thank Ms. Hailey Stewart for helping in the field and SKC Inc. for providing us sampling pumps for preliminary work.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Chemistry and BiochemistryUniversity of MississippiUniversityUSA
  2. 2.College of Chemical EngineeringZhejiang University of TechnologyHangzhouChina

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