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8 March 2012

Researchers rent helicopter to conduct studies in remote areas

Researchers at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science are running up against an unusual problem – how to conduct research in hard-to-reach areas, like remote islands or swamps.

The solution, however, is simple: a helicopter.

The Batchelor Foundation issued RSMAS a $700,000 challenge grant earlier this month to help the school purchase a research helicopter. The foundation is a Miami-based organization that supports projects that benefit the environment.

Acquiring a helicopter will allow for many new research opportunities, including taking aerial photographs, carrying and deploying equipment, and measuring different components of the atmosphere.

“It will put the university at a competitive advantage,” said Kenny Broad, a professor of marine affairs and policy.

Currently, RSMAS occasionally rents research helicopters, but it is better for the school to have its own, Broad said.

He has previously used helicopters to conduct research and finds that the major problem is an inability to carry scientific instruments. Space for these types of devices must be created when the helicopter is being built.

Cost is also another problem. According to Bravo Helicopters, where RSMAS Dean Roni Avissar is a regular client, a Bell 206 JetRanger III, which seats five, rents for $900 to $995 per hour.

When Avissar was at Duke University, he helped the school develop its own helicopter. However, after Avissar left, the helicopter was dismantled because it was outdated.

Broad hopes to use the helicopter with students to study climate change. He also anticipates that students who are certified to fly can serve as co-pilots during certain projects.

The deadline for the challenge grant is in March, but faculty and students remain optimistic.

Senior Ian Chambers, a marine science and biology major, is excited for the possbility of a helicopter.

“It’ll allow us to get to all sorts of place that we couldn’t get to before,” he said. “It’s a huge advantage for the school.”