The emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) has changed the composition of the atmosphere during the Anthropocene. Accurately documenting the sources and magnitude of GHGs emission is an important undertaking for discriminating the contributions of different processes to radiative forcing. Currently there is no mobile platform that is able to quantify trace gases at altitudes(UASs) can be deployed on-site in minutes and can support the payloads necessary to quantify trace gases. Therefore, current efforts combine the use of UASs available on the civilian market with inexpensively designed analytical systems for monitoring atmospheric trace gases. In this context, this perspective introduces the most relevant classes of UASs available and evaluates their suitability to operate three kinds of detectors for atmospheric trace gases. The three subsets of UASs discussed are: (1) micro aerial vehicles (MAVs); (2) vertical take-off and landing (VTOL); and, (3) low-altitude short endurance (LASE) systems. The trace gas detectors evaluated are first the vertical cavity surface emitting laser (VCSEL), which is an infrared laser-absorption technique; second two types of metal-oxide semiconductor sensors; and, third a modified catalytic type sensor. UASs with wingspans under 3 m that can carry up to 5 kg a few hundred meters high for at least 30 min provide the best cost and convenience compromise for sensors deployment. Future efforts should be focused on the calibration and validation of lightweight analytical systems mounted on UASs for quantifying trace atmospheric gases. In conclusion, UASs offer new and exciting opportunities to study atmospheric composition and its effect on weather patterns and climate change.

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Published in Atmosphere, v. 8, no. 10, 206, p. 1-16.

© 2017 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

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This research was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation under RII Track-2 FEC award No. 1539070.