Winter 2011 Antarctica Field Season Features Several Deployments


By Jennifer Salva and Shawn Schaller
Fall 2011

The CReSIS winter 2011 Antarctica field season is already underway, and a total of three deployments will have initiated by the end of the year.

The winter field season will be highlighted by a NASA DC-8 mission, an NSF Twin Otter mission, and an NSF Meridian UAV mission.

DC-8: NASA Operation IceBridge

CReSIS and NASA’s Operation IceBridge mission began on Oct. 10, 2011, and will continue through Nov. 22, 2011. The mission features the NASA DC-8 aircraft, which is equipped with three different radar systems: a Multichannel Coherent Radar Depth Sounder (MCoRDS), a Snow Radar and a Ku-band Radar Altimeter.

The deployment team arrived at the Dryden Flight Research Center in Palmdale, Calif., where they performed test flights and radar installations on the fourth and fifth of October before heading to Punta Arenas, Chile.

All flights during the deployment, which will consist of 210 total science flight hours, will begin and end in Punta Arenas. The deployment team will spend anywhere from 10-12 hours at a time in the air before returning to Punta Arenas. Utilizing alternating flight teams will allow a CReSIS instrument team to be in the air seven days a week.


Photo 1: The DC-8 Aircraft; photo courtesy of Reid Crowe.

The mission’s field lead, CReSIS Assistant Research Professor John Paden, is not only excited at the opportunity to fly over Antarctica for the first time, but also to fly an improved Snow Radar over the ice.

“This [Snow Radar] has a wider band width, so that means better range resolution,” Paden said, explaining the recent modifications made to the Snow Radar. “So that’s going to be neat to look at those results, especially on sea ice where it’s used to measure snow thickness over sea ice.”

The MCoRDS will also be the subject of some changes, Paden said. The deployment team will experiment with different measurement setups of the MCoRDS system on the DC-8 aircraft.

Among those accompanying Paden on the deployment is CReSIS Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) Shashanka Jagarlapudi. For Jagarlapudi, this trip is particularly special because it is his first CReSIS deployment.

“Excited, nervous, and I’m actually taking two courses this semester,” Jagarlapudi said when asked how he was feeling about the deployment. “So I’m just nervous at how well things are going to balance out.”

Jagarlapudi, who will be processing data from Punta Arenas, is familiar with the duties he’s being asked to perform and the rigors of travel to new places. Both, he said, help ease some of the nerves that he might otherwise feel.

CReSIS’ NASA OIB team is expected to return the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, hopefully allowing them enough time to rest up and enjoy the holiday.

Twin Otter: NSF

NSF Twin Otter Deployment team leader Fernando Rodriguez-Morales will guide his team in the deployment to Antarctica during the winter 2011 field season.

The team is comprised of CReSIS Research Professor Rodriguez-Morales, Justin Miller of Indiana University, Assistant Research Professor Jilu Li, and two Graduate Research Assistants: Reid Crowe and Daniel Garcia-Gomez. They depart on November 10th, arriving at McMurdo Station in Antarctica on Nov. 14, 2011, and will return Jan. 13, 2012. Although this is Rodriguez-Morales’ sixth trip to Antarctica, the rest of the team is not that experienced.

The group will be flying aerial radar surveys over Byrd Glacier using CReSIS radars installed on a Twin Otter aircraft. Team lead Rodriguez-Morales will “operate the radar personally, especially during the test flights to ensure that everything is functioning properly.” He explains that “once the system is in a state where it doesn’t need much tweaking, then [he] can assign others to do the operation during the flight.”

Twin Otter

Photo 2: The Twin Otter Aircraft; photo courtesy of Daniel Gomez-Garcia.

Rodriguez-Morales stays involved in each flight and ensures that one of the 12 operating spaces is reserved for him.

The Indiana University Polar Grid Project will also be a part of this mission. This group is responsible for providing the NSF Twin Otter team with the computing equipment needed to process and backup the large amount of data collected via radar.

During the deployment, a separate UAV (Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle) mission will be conducted. These experiments will assess ice thickness and the surface elevation profile of Byrd Glacier. There will be an additional experiment on the ice shelf to measure melt rates.

As the date of departure approaches, Rodriguez-Morales looks forward to getting out in the field, where he will, as always, aim to acquire high-quality data to benefit the scientific community.

Meridian UAV: NSF

The Meridian UAV is set to make test runs out of McMurdo Station, Antarctica, during the winter 2011 Antarctica field season. The UAV team will depart from the U.S. on Dec. 3, 2011, and arrive at McMurdo Station from Dec. 7, 2011, where they’ll remain until Jan. 13, 2012.

The flight tests will include testing the use of CReSIS radars on the UAV. The radar to be used is a version of the MCoRDS modified to fit on the belly of the small aircraft.

The UAV team will depart from Kansas City International Airport on Dec. 3, 2011, and arrive in Christchurch, New Zealand on Dec. 5, 2011. In Christchurch, they will test out the field equipment and run logistics checks. From there, the team will fly to Antarctica on Dec. 7, 2011, where they will remain ‘on the ice’ until Jan. 13, 2012.

Meridian UAV

Photo 3: The Meridian UAV; photo courtesy of Bill Donovan.

The UAV itself is shipped in three pieces; the fuselage takes up the majority of a large crate and the wings are strapped to the sides of the crate. For flight testing purposes, the UAV team will also have a Yak shipped to Antarctica. The Yak, an R/C scale model aircraft of an actual Yak aircraft, is used for flight testing prior to flying the UAV.

CReSIS GRA Emily Arnold, the UAV pilot’s assistant for the duration of the mission, said she “jumped at the chance” to be a part of the Meridian UAV deployment and see her handiwork in action.

“When I first started at CReSIS, I worked in the lab building the Meridian, and now I’ve gone off and done my own things that aren’t Meridian,” Arnold said, recalling her initial experience with the UAV. “We’ve had several students graduate that were on the flight test team… and since I’ve been around so long,” Arnold continued with a chuckle, “Dr. Hale asked me if I would like to go.”

As the pilot’s assistant, Arnold will act as the mediator between the team members operating the ground station and the pilot handling the UAV’s complex controls.

The team members operating the ground station, Arnold said, are constantly giving the pilot velocities, altitudes, pitch angles and other necessary measurements. Because the pilot’s hands are full, however, Arnold’s job is to keep the pilot informed, calm and collected.

Arnold is also set to enjoy the experience of witnessing a marvel of modern science at work, one that was realized right here at the University of Kansas.