CReSIS Deploys to Antarctic


By Bill Daehler
Fall 2013

CReSIS researchers recently participated in several research missions with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA in the Antarctic to collect new data. While several NSF-funded missions are still ongoing in the Antarctic, NASA’s Operation IceBridge (OIB) just wrapped up, and for the first time in the program’s history, the mission was actually based out of Antarctica.

“That gave us a lot of freedom to fly more hours on survey flights instead of in transit…. and access areas that were not so accessible on parts of Antarctica,” said CReSIS field team lead Bruno Camps-Raga, a researcher from CReSIS’ headquarters at the University of Kansas (KU).


Photo 1: CReSIS researcher Dr. Bruno Camps-Raga (right) traveling to the sea ice runway from McMurdo. Photo courtesy of James Yungel, NASA.

Last year, IceBridge was based out of Punta Arenas, Chile. Basing IceBridge science flights in Antarctica meant that researchers spent time in the air to survey Antarctica’s sea ice and ice shelves and less time commuting from other locations. Having more time to collect data on each flight was particularly important for this season’s mission because of the October government shutdown, which delayed the IceBridge mission for three weeks.

After the delay, Camps-Raga, KU research professor Dr. Fernando Rodriguez-Morales, CReSIS staff member Bryan Townley, and KU Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) Theresa Stumpf installed and tested the CReSIS radar systems on NASA’s P-3 aircraft at Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) in late October and early November. KU Aerospace Engineering staff member John Hunter and KU GRA David Schroer participated in installing the CReSIS radars’ antenna systems on the P-3. Aaron Wells, Justin Miller and Matt Standish, all of CReSIS partner Indiana University (IU), installed the Forward Observer data management system, a state-of-the-art system that gives researchers access to a powerful high-speed network and cluster computing while in-flight. Previously, data had to be collected in-flight and then analyzed in a lab. Rodriguez-Morales, Standish, Assistant Research Professor Dr. John Paden, and KU GRA Daniel Gomez-Garcia participated in flight tests of the radar systems on the P-3 at WFF.

“Our role on this trip was to collect radar data,” said Camps-Raga.

Twice each year, a CReSIS team joins others from NASA to conduct the Operation IceBridge missions. CReSIS sends its researchers along with several radar systems; the MCoRDS radar system, Accumulation Radar system, Ku-band altimeter system and Snow Radar system were each installed on the P-3.

  • The MCoRDS (Multichannel Coherent Radar Depth Sounder) is operated on frequencies ranging from 140 megahertz (MHz) to 230 MHz. The MCoRDS was developed for sounding and imaging ice sheets from aircraft. It has previously been used on missions with both the P-3 and NASA’s DC-8 aircraft.
  • The accumulation radar operates from 600 MHz to 900 MHz when fitted on an aircraft, giving scientists a depth resolution of 28 cm in ice. Its fine depth resolution provides scientists with spatial mapping of the annual accumulation of layers. The accumulation radar can also be used on the ground.
  • The Ku-band altimeter operates over a frequency range of 12-18 GHz. It provides high precision surface elevation measurements when flown over ice sheets. When combined with data accrued from other instruments, the Ku-band altimeter can provide scientists with measures of the thickness of snow cover over sea ice.
  • The snow radar operates over a frequency range of 2 to 8 GHz. It can be used to measure the thickness of snow over sea ice. This radar has been fitted to both the P-3 and DC-8 aircraft.

On November 11, after radar installation and tests were completed at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, the P-3 departed for Antarctica. It arrived in McMurdo Station on November 16. The Antarctic-based CReSIS team consisted of Camps-Raga, Stumpf, Townley and Miller. The first science flight out of Antarctica was flown on November 18 and surveyed Beardmore, Lennox King, and Nimrod glaciers.


Photo 2: P-3 aircraft fitted with CReSIS radars. Photo courtesy of CReSIS.

Basing flights out of Antarctica meant more opportunities to collect data, but it also presented a series of logistical challenges. The P-3 was using a sea ice runway and flying through rough Antarctic conditions, which meant the weather had be checked often and the equipment kept from freezing. Additional challenges included maintaining the ground-based calibration sites on the runway and on Black Island, checking GPS ground stations and keeping the IceBridge team fed and housed, and providing transportation to the sea ice runway and Black Island.

Ross Sea Ice Shelf

Photo 3: The edge of the Ross Sea Ice Shelf. Photo courtesy of James Yungel, NASA.

James Yungel, NASA Program Manager, said the NASA, NSF and Antarctic-based support staff ensured the mission was successful despite the government shutdown and challenges of basing flights out of Antarctica. The mission was, quite literally, continued to the last possible day; the teams strived to take away as much data as possible. The final survey flight was conducted en route to Christchurch.

Yungel particularly thanked the P-3 flight crew who “ensured that IceBridge maximized our opportunities to carry out these research flights.”

Flight path

Image 1: IceBridge flight paths for survey missions. Image courtesy of James Yungel, NASA.

Camps-Raga said that the opportunities provided by basing flights out of Antarctica allowed the team to survey previously unknown areas.

Operation IceBridge is a six-year NASA mission that will conduct the largest-ever airborne survey of the Arctic and Antarctic, collecting data to expand our knowledge of ever-changing ice sheets, ice shelves and sea ice.

NSF Missions

CReSIS researchers are also participating in three NSF-funded missions that are currently in progress in Antarctica.

All three CReSIS teams are based out of Subglacial Lake Whillans, or SLW camp, on the Siple Coast of Antarctica—right now it is also being called the “CReSIS Camp.” The teams arrived at McMurdo on December 5 after picking up cold weather gear in Christchurch and were scheduled to fly to SLW camp on an LC-130 aircraft on December 16. However, weather conditions forced the flight back to December 18 or later.

The teams will spend about four weeks surveying and collecting data from the air and ground and consist of an airborne radar survey project that uses a Basler aircraft, an unmanned aerial system (UAS) project and a surface-based survey project.


Image 2: Location of the Whillans Ice Stream on the Siple Coast, which will be surveyed by CReSIS teams. Image courtesy of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

The airborne survey team includes CReSIS researchers Dr. Carl Leuschen, Dr. John Paden, Dr. Stephen Yan, Dr. Zongbo Wang and Indiana University’s Aaron Wells. The team installed several radar systems on the Basler aircraft, including the ultra-wideband radar (UWB), Ku-band radar and the snow radar. Through a collaboration with Google, there is also a Google Camera installed on the aircraft. The airborne team will be surveying three ice streams: Whillans, Bindschadler, and Kamb.

The UAS project includes Dr. Rick Hale, Dr. Shawn Keshmiri, Alec Bowman, TJ Stastny and Nicholas Brown. The Yak-54 UAS will be used to survey the Whillans ice stream and other areas around the camp. The team brought two Yak-54’s on the mission, one made of fiberglass and another of wood. CReSIS’ dual frequency HF Sounder will be attached to the aircraft to collect radar data.


Photo 4: A tent at an Antarctic camp in 2009. Photo courtesy of CReSIS.

The surface-based project includes researchers Sridhar Anandakrishnan and Peter Burkett of Pennsylvania State University (PSU), a CReSIS partner institution. Members of the Basler project will also support the surface-based team. CReSIS’ surface-based accumulation radar, which is fitted to a sled, and PSU’s seismic equipment will be used to collect radar data and seismic surveys. The team will survey four to five sites per day for up to five days a week, then return to the sites two weeks later for another survey. Finally, weather permitting, they will return after another two weeks for a final survey.

Each member of the three teams at “CReSIS Camp” will be sleeping in their own tent and all researchers will share a larger tent to work in. The teams are expected to return to McMurdo around January 11, 2014. All team members are expected home by January 21.