Suitability of a Non-Dispersive Infrared Methane Sensor Package for Flux Quantification Using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

Adil Shah, Joseph Pitt, Khristopher Kabbabe, Grant Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Point-source methane emission flux quantification is required to help constrain the global methane budget. Facility-scale fluxes can be derived using in situ methane mole fraction sampling, near-to-source, which may be acquired from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) platform. We test a new non-dispersive infrared methane sensor by mounting it onto a small UAV, which flew downwind of a controlled methane release. Nine UAV flight surveys were conducted on a downwind vertical sampling plane, perpendicular to mean wind direction. The sensor was first packaged in an enclosure prior to sampling which contained a pump and a recording computer, with a total mass of 1.0 kg. The packaged sensor was then characterised to derive a gain factor of 0.92 ± 0.07, independent of water mole fraction, and an Allan deviation precision (at 1 Hz) of ±1.16 ppm. This poor instrumental precision and possible short-term drifts made it non-trivial to define a background mole fraction during UAV surveys, which may be important where any measured signal is small compared to sources of instrumental uncertainty and drift. This rendered the sensor incapable of deriving a meaningful flux from UAV sampling for emissions of the order of 1 g s−1. Nevertheless, the sensor may indeed be useful when sampling mole fraction enhancements of the order of at least 10 ppm (an order of magnitude above the 1 Hz Allan deviation), either from stationary ground-based sampling (in baseline studies) or from mobile sampling downwind of sources with greater source flux than those observed in this study. While many methods utilising low-cost sensors to determine methane flux are being developed, this study highlights the importance of adequately characterising and testing all new sensors before they are used in scientific research.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4705
Issue number21
Early online date29 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


  • Flux
  • Lightweight sensor
  • Methane
  • Non-dispersive infrared
  • Unmanned aerial vehicle


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