Two UPC projects selected in the MIT-Spain “la Caixa” Foundation Seed Fund programme

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The Space Science and Technology Research Group (CTE-CRAE) and the Lightning Research Group (LRG) are participating in two of the twelve projects selected in the third call for the MIT Spain “la Caixa” Foundation Seed Fund programme:

– The aim of the first of the projects, which was selected in the global economy category, is to quantify the response of vegetation to climate change using statistical models”. The project addresses the role of vegetation in Earth-atmosphere exchanges, to determine the impact of the climate emergency. Episodes such as Storm Gloria, prolonged droughts or the global increase in temperature are examples of phenomena relating to climate change that have a great impact on vegetation and terrestrial ecosystems. These climate extremes, which have been affecting the Mediterranean area in recent years, reduce crop yield and alter forest carbon storage, which decreases their capacity to mitigate climate change.

The project will develop statistical models to investigate the response of vegetation to extreme climate phenomena, applying satellite technology to the observation of the Earth with microwave, optical and laser sensors to measure the water content is soil and vegetation. In this way, the exchange of water between soil, vegetation and atmosphere can be determined at global and regional scale, and information can be obtained to quantify the response of vegetation to extreme changes in processes induced by heat waves, droughts and floods. Vegetation absorbs over 25% of the CO2 emitted by human activities, which helps to mitigate climate change. Discovering its state of health using these statistical models will contribute to improving predictions on climate change and its impacts

Participants in this project include David Chaparro and Mercedes Vall-llossera, researchers from the Space Science and Technology Research Group (CTE-CRAE), together with María Piles, a researcher from the University of Valencia, and Dara Entekhabi, the science head of the Soil Moisture Active/Passive (SMAP) mission of NASA and a researcher at MIT.

– In the area, the project called “Small unmanned aerial vehicles for research into atmospheric electricity” has been selected. The basis of the project is that small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are a unique platform to study the electrical effects of the atmosphere in aerial vehicles and high structures. UAVs can be used as a relatively economical model of larger aircraft and enable extensive testing in a university environment, with short response times. In addition, drones with vertical flight provide an accurate platform to measure and observe the electrical properties of the atmosphere and simulate their impact on high structures or, more specifically, wind turbines, which in the future could reach a height of 300 metres.

Therefore, in this project, the aim is to use UAVs to study corona discharges, an electrical phenomenon that is a precursor to lightning, and the electrical charge on a small aircraft and on wind generator blades. In the case of aircraft and wind generators, environmental electric fields are amplified by factors of ten or more on the surface of the structure. This increase in the field, combined with the effects of rapid movement, lead to the appearance of corona discharges on the sharp edges: specifically, the tips of the wind generators’ blades and the end of the aircraft’s wings and tailplane. In addition, aircraft and wind turbines gain electric charge from the atmosphere and other sources, mechanisms about which little is known to date.

It is important to study these phenomena as they are precursors during storms of lightning discharges and contribute to the long-term degradation of the compound materials from which aircraft and turbines are made.

The project will be developed by Joan Montanyà from the Lightning Research Group (LRG), with the collaboration of the UPC Electrical Engineering Department and Carmen Guerra-Garcia del MIT.

About the MIT-Spain “La Caixa” Programme

The MIT-Spain “la Caixa” programme is designed to promote research projects developed between Spanish universities and research centres and research groups at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). MIT is one of the main institutions dedicated to research and teaching in the USA and is specialised in science, technology and economics.

In this third call for the programme, 25 research projects were submitted from 23 centres around Spain. Once assessed by the committee of experts, 12 projects were selected: four in the health field, four in global economics and four in energy. The call has a budget of over 300,000 euros, which are fully allocated to subsidising trips and temporary stays of researchers in Spain and Boston to carry out their research projects. The initiative is designed to increase the visibility of Spanish research among lecturers, researchers and students of MIT, and vice versa; and to contribute to the formation of ties between Spanish and MIT researchers that can bring about long-term collaborations.