Aircraft Deployed Ice Observation System


A recent study suggests the thinning of Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica is much more susceptible to climatic and ocean variability than at first thought.


UK scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have developed an aircraft deployed ice observation system containing Iridium satellite technology, in order to transmit and monitor data in areas too hazardous and unstable to traverse.

Pine Island Glacier (PIG), is one of the continent’s largest and fastest moving ice streams containing many deep crevasses deemed too hazardous to traverse by humans. As such, teams from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) monitor the ice flow remotely using Iridium satellite technology.

PIG is of particular interest to environmental scientists as it is changing rapidly; accelerating, thinning and receding, with the resulting meltwater directly contributing to rising sea levels.

In order to research this important ice stream scientists have developed a method to monitor movement and changes in the infrastructure by using an aircraft deployed ice observation system that fires equipment loaded with sensors into the ice surface.

After being released from an aircraft, parachutes are released, and as they fall rapidly towards the ice the parachutes stabilise their descent.

In order to ensure the projectiles do not embed themselves too far into the ice, each is fitted with four small fins, ensuring the tail remains above the surface of the ice as this houses the satellite communications antenna required to relay the critical monitoring data to BAS, via the Iridium satellite network.

The Iridium satellite network is utilised to transmit the data back to BAS, as it is the only constellation that offers truly global voice and data communications coverage even across the polar regions.

‘These aircraft-deployed sensors have allowed us, for the first time, to take direct measurements from the most dynamic and crevassed glaciers in the Antarctic. These measurements are critical to our prediction of sea-level rise due to climate change,’ explained Dr David Jones, who leads the technical project development team.

Currently, BAS has 25 of the highly engineered scientific javelins placed throughout the Pine Island Glacier.

Applied Satellite Technology Ltd is proud to work with BAS to enable transmission of data via Iridium satellite communications, ultimately enabling BAS scientists to collect, monitor and interrogate data from the fragile ice stream on a daily basis.

The teams at BAS also use Iridium 9555 satellite phones in order to keep in touch with each other whilst in the field, emergencies and for critical communication back to UK teams.

The handsets, which meet military-grade standards, are designed to work everywhere, without exception, even at the polar regions. They are engineered to withstand the world’s toughest environments, so act as a critical lifeline for the teams wherever they are.

The Iridium 9555 incorporates an integrated speakerphone, SMS and e-mail messaging capabilities, as well as a Mini-USB data port.

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