MetaSensing in Antarctica
MetaSensing took its airborne altimeter, operating at Ka-band, as far south as it’s possible to go – to Antarctica!
MetaSensing is part of the the first ever dedicated ESA campaign in Antarctica, which aims to validate data from two satellite missions: CryoSat-2, an ESA project; and SARAL/AltiKa, a collaboration between the French Centre national d'études spatiales and the Indian Space Research Organization.
Funny characters can be found walking around the research base
Following our successful campaigns in the Arctic a few months ago, airborne and in-situ measurements performed along the two satellites’ tracks will give further insight into the potential of a dual-frequency radar system (Ku- and Ka-band) to be used in a proposed future satellite mission.
Operations are in progress in Antarctica with a suite of instruments installed on a Twin Otter aircraft from the British Antarctic Survey. These include a Ku-band radar (ASIRAS) by ESA, lidar, optical cameras, advanced inertial navigation systems and geodetic units, and, of course, the MetaSensing Ka-band altimeter (KAREN).
Belly view of the Twin Otter used during the campaign, showing some of the sensors.
Several surveys have been already performed over the Filchner-Ronne ice shelf and in the Weddell Sea near the Antarctic Peninsula. Operations were carried out between Rothera, Sky Blu, and Halley research stations together with project partners from DTU the Danish University of Technology (DTU) and University of Leeds.
Overview of flights during the first phase of the campaign during late 2017 and early 2018 (courtesy of DTU).
The Halley VI station is a modern base run by the UK.
However, the lodgings haven’t always been fancy research stations. Due to harsh weather conditions, which can be severe and temperamental, occasionally a camping tent was used to pass the brightly-lit “night” (since it is summer in Antarctica) and wait for better conditions.
A tent was set up over a fuel deposit at the Berkner South Dome while waiting for bad weather to pass.
A large amount of data has been already collected over the ice shelf and the sea ice. This includes not only data acquired during satellite passes, but also during ground-penetrating radar (GPR) measurements being carried out by the University of Leeds. The research ship Ernest Shackleton, capable of navigating the tough ice fields, carried the ground equipment in coordination with the airborne team.
Aerial photo of the mighty Ernest Shackleton, moored to a piece of ice for deployment of a GPR instrument.
The Twin Otter is an ideal aircraft for polar operations; it can even land and take off on ice!
The second phase the campaign is currently in progress, with more flights to be performed in different areas of Antarctica, along with additional ground measurements.
Since January is the warmest month of the year in Antarctica, in some areas the sea ice breaks apart, resulting in wonderful views.