Lincoln Agritech’s Sensing Technologies team has been assisting the University of Canterbury with a subcontract delivering to the Deep South National Science Challenge. Using 4D drones to monitor cloud and snow formation, the project aims to enhance our understanding of weather systems and processes underlying climate change.
Working alongside glaciologist, Dr Wolfgang Rack, and his University of Canterbury team, Lincoln Agritech scientists and engineers have designed and built three sets of microwave sensors to measure snow depth over sea ice in Antarctica.
Late last year, Lincoln Agritech Research Scientist, Dr Adrian Tan, travelled to Antarctica to equip a University of Canterbury drone with the snow depth radar and to assist in the first series of field trials. We talk to Adrian about his experiences in the Deep South.
[Lincoln Agritech]: Tell us about your experience in Antarctica – how long did you go for and what did you do?
[Adrian Tan]: I was stationed at Scott Base New Zealand from the 9th to 28th November. Located at the southern tip of Ross Island, we had access to the Ross ice shelf and the sea ice at McMurdo Sound.
We conducted daily trips to locations on the sea ice around the ‘pressure ridges’ (located near Scott Base) and specific waypoints at McMurdo Sound to trial our UAV snow depth radar in surveying snow depths on sea ice. We accessed these locations using a track vehicle called a ‘Hagglund’. A Hagglund is a specialised vehicle able to traverse the rugged terrain found in Antarctica. Its heavy duty tracks and engines allow it to handle the many ridges, crevices and deep snow that would otherwise stall a non-tracked vehicle.
At the time of our survey, the locations were still frozen – perfect for field work. In the warmer summer months - from December onwards - the sea ice melts and becomes an open sea.
What was your induction programme like? We heard you built an ice wall.
There were just two members in my induction programme. The programme taught and equipped us with important safety skills required to conduct our experiments in Antarctica and survive in emergencies. After our training, we were expected to be fully prepared for unforeseen circumstances and scenarios that could happen while we were on field expeditions.
One of the fun aspects of the induction programme was the overnight camp where we built a snow wall. Snow walls are important as they protect campsites and tents from being inundated with blown snow, something that happens regularly at Scott Base. When there is a larger group on the induction programme, the participants get to build an igloo.
Part of your field work was delayed by snow storms and drifts, what did you do on those days?
Snow storms happen frequently, which in hindsight shouldn’t have surprised me! These storms come with 100 km/h winds, blowing snow and generating poor visibility (a few meters). Conditions are categorised according to the severity of the storms and this determined whether we were allowed outside of Scott Base. About half the time we were there field expeditions were delayed due to storms.
While these storms blew through we waited at the Base and spent time completing unfinished work, preparing for a quick deployment once the storm was over, and engaging in indoor activities such as reading, watching movies, gym / yoga sessions, playing games etc.
During your trip, many researchers were residing at Scott Base. What was that like?
The capacity of Scott Base is about 100 people. At one point there were more than 100 personnel at the Base due to delays of inbound and outbound flights to Christchurch. Living conditions were cramped but comfortable. Naturally, resource conservation is a big concern at Scott Base due to the difficulty in obtaining supplies such as food, water, fuel and electricity. Luckily, the researchers and staff at Scott Base are friendly and easy going.
Was it difficult doing field work in Antarctica? How did your trials go and were they a success?
Doing field work in Antarctica required a lot of training, endurance and tolerance, as well as the ability to operate calmly when things go wrong. I was lucky to have been guided and supported by my University of Canterbury team members and the talented staff at Scott Base.
The trials were a success and we were able to successfully deploy the snow radar.
The primary snow measurement objective was achieved - we successfully conducted snow mapping at a height of 15m with a cruising speed of 2m/s.
This method of assessing snow depth is considerably cheaper and faster than the traditional method of drilling core holes in the ice - a 2km transect can be flown in 30 minutes. Most importantly, it will greatly increase the amount of data that can be generated from measuring the changing depth of snow, aiding aid our understanding of climate change.
Image: Dr Adrian Tan tests his survival skills in the safety induction programme.