New submitter ScienceMon writes "Emma Maris reports in Nature how unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, are starting to catch on among scientific researchers who are using them to keep tabs on volcanoes, track endangered species, hunt down weeds, and a range of other uses. At the same time, engineers are designing ever-more sophisticated drones that can navigate and collect data autonomously. '[R]esearchers from UC Boulder have used UAVs to measure jets of wind that scream down from the Antarctic plateau into Terra Nova Bay. Such measurements could help scientists to understand the dynamics of sea-ice formation around Antarctica, which creates dense salty water that sinks and helps to drive global ocean currents. "Nobody had an aircraft out there during winter when the winds are strongest and took measurements because the conditions are too extreme," says Maslanik. The data collected so far, he says, show unexpectedly complex wind patterns, including fierce, localized jets that push sea ice off shore and speed up its formation.'"