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Unmanned Systems Research Laboratory (USRL)

New Tools for Atmospheric Research and Earth Surface Observations


cyi plane

The Unmanned Systems Research Laboratory (USRL) is part of the Energy, Environment and Water Research Center (EEWRC) of The Cyprus Institute and offers on-site facilities and related infrastructure for research, development, and testing of technologies related to UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles).
The mission of the USRL is to provide high-quality observations of atmospheric pollutants and other parameters relevant to air quality and climate change. Taking advantage of several other CyI infrastructures, such as the instrumentation and analytical laboratories for testing and qualifying miniaturized sensors, as well as a private runway and dedicated airspace at our Atmospheric Research Facility at Agia Marina Xyliatou, USRL performs regular (weekly) UAV flights to document and contrast long range transported pollution from three continents (Europe, Africa and West Asia) and dust aerosols from the largest desert regions in the world (Sahara, Middle East).

Research Activities at USRL

3-D mapping of air pollution

The capacity of UAVs to provide almost instantaneous 3-D measurements of air pollutants makes it an ideal tool to map the dispersion of atmospheric plumes and characterize their physical and chemical (biological) composition.
Applications typically range from air quality (stack emmissions, urban plumes), to geohazards (volcanoes, forest fires), industrial accidents and global security.

Crossroads of international air pollution transport

Cyprus is centrall located in the Eastern Mediterranean where a wide range of air pollution source regions can be monitored and compared; this includes Eastern Europe (e.g. the Black Sea region), the Middle East and North Africa; the polluted air masses can be contrasted to clean air from the Atlantic – Mediterranean source sector. To investigate the pollution transports in four dimensions and quantify their role in regional climate change, we established a multi-platform infrastructure by combining the capabilities of our Atmospheric Research Facility at Agia Marina Xyliatoou with UAVs for additional monitoring of the vertical structure of the atmosphere.

Aerosol-cloud interactions

Cyprus is located downwind of major deserts in N. Africa and the Middle East that have critical impact on regional climate with potentially high, but still not well characterized, impact on clouds and precipitation. UAV vertically-resolved observations can document the atmospheric processing (ageing) of dust particles below and above the boundary layer, and better characterize their chemical/physical/optical/hygroscopic growth properties, their lifetime (wet and dry deposition), their impact on clouds (cloud droplet and ice nucleating properties) and the relative forcing of climate.

Our latest activities, including BACCHUS and ACTRIS2 (EU funded projects) have led our team to enhance their experience (more than 300h of flying) in a significant number of applications, such as:

  • Physical, chemical, and optical properties of aerosols
  • Atmospheric Dynamics
  • 3d reconstruction of Archaeological Sites
  • Dual-Use Surveillance
  • Surface Morphology
  • Vegetation and Land use patterns
  • Ocean Surface properties (biology, waves, currents, contaminant detection)

1 component  2 diagram  3 dual  4 cam  5 measure


USRL owns a variety of sensors and instruments for atmospheric and earth surface observations as well as the knowledge to operate them and acquire meaningful data.

drone 1
drone 2
drone 3

Established in 2010, the USRL facility operates a wide range of research aircraft including four medium sized ET-Air Cruisers (35kg), many small sized Skywalkers (up to 5kg), and two rotary wing aircraft, a multi-copter DJI S1000 (10kg) and a helicopter Mikado LOGO 800 (10kg). The diversity of the USRL fleet allows for operations over various locations, from remote to urban environments.



1-year routine (July 2016 – July 2017) observation of the vertical composition of the atmosphere with weekly UAV flights (Absorption, Size distribution, AOD, Ice Nuclei, etc) completing similar 1-year co-located (Cyprus) remote sensing observations (TROPOS)

Scientific motivations:

  • Build a unique atmospheric database in the Mediterranean with boundary layer and free tropospheric in-situ observations
  • Investigating the influence of boundary layer vs free troposphere on atmospheric processes
  • In-situ constrain of remote sensing (sun photometer, Lidar) retrieval algorithms of aerosol optical properties and IN parametrization
  • Demonstration of the added-value of UAV platforms in long-term routine observations of the atmosphere (ACTRIS ESFRI)

mobile grnd ctrl stn


EU-FP7-BACCHUS: Impact of Biogenic versus Anthropogenic emissions on Clouds and Climate towards a Holistic Understanding.

EU-H2020-ACTRIS2: European Research Infrastructure for the observation of Aerosol, Clouds and Trace gases.

Aerosol-Cloud Interactions Campaign (part of EU-FP7-BACCHUS & EU-H2020-ACTRIS2 deliverables)

aerosol cloud interactionsCyprus, April 2016

  • Ice-Nuclei Properties
  • Aerosol Optical Properties
  • Ground Based
  • Remote Sensing (Ground + Satellite)
  • Aerial (UAV)
Aerial Platforms:
  • Cruiser UAVs (35 Kg)
  • Skywalker X8 UAVs (5 Kg)


Air Pollution in Athens Campaign (EU-H2020-ACTRIS2)

air pollution athensAthens, Greece, January 2016

  • Inter-comparison of commercial and prototype miniaturized Black Carbon (BC) sensors against standardized absorption instruments
  • Evaluate their performance when airborne Measurements
  • Total of 26 vertical profiles
  • 10-15 minutes for each vertical profile!
  • Intensive Day Measurements
  • 1 vertical profile every 1 hour from dawn to dusk
  • Octocopter (10Kg)

Agia marina Campaign (part of EU-FP7-BACCHUS & EU-H2020-ACTRIS2 deliverables)

agia marina campaignCyprus, March 2015

  • Ice-Nuclei Properties
  • Aerosol Optical Properties
  • Ground Based
  • Remote Sensing (Ground + Satellite)
  • Aerial (UAV)
Aerial Platforms:
  • Cruiser UAVs (35 Kg)

Sitia Campaign (part of EU-FP7-BACCHUS & EU-H2020-ACTRIS2 deliverables)

sitia campaignGreece, Crete, June - July 2014

  • Ice-Nuclei Properties
  • Aerosol Optical Properties
  • Ground Based
  • Sensing (Ground + Satellite)
  • Aerial (UAV)
Aerial Platforms:
  • Cruiser UAVs (35 Kg)


APAESO (RPF): Autonomous Flying Platforms for Atmospheric and Earth Observation (Research Promotion Foundation, EU structural funds)

COST Action ES0802: Unmanned Aerial Systems in Atmospheric Research

MISTRALS/ChAeMEx: Mediterranean Integrated Studies at Regional and Local Scales / The Chemistry – Aerosol Mediterranean Experiment


The heart of USRL is its laboratory in the Cyprus Institute’s premises in Nicosia. The 100 m2 Laboratory houses a unique fully equipped mechanical and electronics workshop for development and preparation of unmanned aerial systems that is conveniently next to the CyI instrumentation laboratory for atmospheric sciences and next to the CyI chemistry analytical laboratory.




A private paved runway (12x200m) with a hangar and overhead airspace located near our Atmospheric Research Facility at Agia Marina Xyliatou. The dedicated airspace is approved by CAA of Cyprus for UAV operations of up to 8000ft agl.




In 2010 a Mobile Ground Control Station (GCS) has been developed in order to enhance USRL ability for missions in remote areas in Cyprus and abroad. The mobile GCS is equipped with cutting edge technology to establish stable communication link with UAVs for long range missions and reliable data streaming.

gcs 1   gcs 2


res proj logo charmex MISTRALS/ChArMEx: Mediterranean Integrated STudies at Regional And Local Scales / The Chemistry-Aerosol Mediterranean Experiment
res proj logo actris ACTRIS2 (H2020): European Research Infrastructure for the observation of Aerosol, Clouds, and Trace gases
res proj logo bacchus ACTRIS2 (H2020): Impact of Biogenic versus Anthropogenic emissions on Clouds and Climate: towards a Holistic UnderStanding


  • Jean Sciare (Manager / EEWRC Director)
  • Christos Keleshis (Associate Research Scientist, Electrical Engineer)
  • Marios Argyrides (Chief UAV Pilot)
  • Apostolos Apostolou (Mechanical Engineer)
  • Panayiotis Vouterakos (RC Developer, UAV Pilot)
  • Panagiota Antoniou (Electronics Engineer)
  • Konstantinos Savvides (UAV Pilot)
  • Michael Pikridas (Post-Doctoral Fellow, Atmospheric Scientist)
  • Mihalis Vrekousis (Visiting Professor)


 maj ptnr logo dli maj ptnr logo goethe maj ptnr logo maxplanck
 Department of Labour Inspection (Cyprus)  Goethe University (Germany)  Max Planck Institute for Chemistry (Germany)
maj ptnr logo natobsathens maj ptnr logo noaa maj ptnr logo aerosol
National Observatory of Athens (Greece) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, Boulder, USA) Aerosol d.o.o. (Sloveni)


Jean Sciare
(+357) 22 20 86 01
Monday- Friday: (09:00-17:00 GMT+3) 
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Christos Keleshis
(+357) 22 20 86 59
Monday- Friday: (09:00-17:00 GMT+3) 
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Website: http://usrl.cyi.ac.cy/