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Low-power Remote Polar Geophysical Instrument Stations

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IRIS PASSCAL Instrument Center
801 Leroy Place
New Mexico Tech
Socorro, NM 87801

GPS station at Lepley Nunatak, West Antarctica
GPS station at Lepley Nunatak, West Antarctica
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Seismic station installation on Polar Plateau, East Antarctica
Seismic station installation on Polar Plateau, East Antarctica
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Solar iconWind iconBattery icon To achieve major advances in addressing many compelling questions in polar geoscience, continuous recording of GPS and seismic data is required. Logistic expenses dictate that such systems operate unattended year-round, for multiple years. Since all such systems are deployed via light aircraft, there is a strong need to reduce system size and weight to minimize the number of flights for system installation.

In 2006 the National Science Foundation awarded a Major Research Infrastructure (MRI) grant to the IRIS/PASSCAL and UNAVCO Facilities for a unique 3-year proposal to design and build a reliable power and communication system for autonomous polar station operation. This development effort involved close collaboration with Antarctic seismologists and GPS scientists.

The resulting technologies have since been deployed in large quantities throughout Antarctica and Greenland, with an average data return of 80-90%. A broader project goal was developing a modular power, communications, and structural system applicable to other low-power instrumentation in the <10 watt range.

Location Large networks of GPS and seismic instruments have been installed across Antarctica and Greenland, for example the POLENET project

Several other geophysical instruments have also been deployed using these power systems, including several weather / camera stations, an ozone instrument, and a laser thermometry instrument.

Description The overall system design goals were to a) minimize size, weight, and installation time for remote instrument stations, b) increase reliability of year-round power generation and storage, and c) improve reliability of communications systems. Following successful completion of the initial MRI project, technical development has continued, resulting in further gains in system performance and reliability.

The current systems are available to researchers from the UNAVCO and IRIS/PASSCAL facilities. The designs are modular and scalable in size, and adaptable to various polar climate regimes. Key aspects of these designs include:
  • Basic systems are deployable in one light aircraft flight, with a 3-person field team, in under 4 hours ground time. A second flight may be required if larger battery banks are used.

  • Strong, lightweight aluminum structural frames, for installation on rock, snow, and ice surfaces.

  • Rugged enclosures for electronics and batteries, modular and scalable for varying power demands up to 10W. For extreme cold (polar plateau) conditions, enclosures are also available with high performance thermal insulation.

  • Cold-rated seismic sensors and GPS instruments.

  • Iridium and point-to-point communications solutions (see below).

  • Reliable solar power generation, with robust charge control using Flexcharge and Genasun hardware.

  • Optional wind power generation using low-power Forgen 500 vertical axis turbines and higher power Aerogen4 (LVM) and Rutland 910-3 horizontal-axis turbines, with robust power management hardware.

  • Rechargeable lead-acid batteries (GEL and AGM) for summer-only or year-round operation, with optional non-rechargeable lithium batteries to reduce weight required for wintertime operation.

  • Optional weather stations, with integrated power and communications. Use off-the-shelf instruments from Vaisala or polar-specific met stations from University of Wisconsin.
Seismic station at Iggy Ridge, Transantarctic Mountains, Antarctica
Seismic station at Iggy Ridge, Transantarctic Mountains, Antarctica
(Click on image to see a bigger version)
Power system supporting Tall Tower weather station, Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica
Power system supporting Tall Tower weather station, Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica
(Click on image to see a bigger version)
Data Technical information for UNAVCO systems:  http://www.unavco.org/polartechnology

Technical information for PASCAL systems:   http://www.passcal.nmt.edu/content/polar

The POLENET project:   http://www.polenet.org

The UNAVCO/PASSCAL MRI project proposal:   http://www.unavco.org/pubs_reports/proposals/2006/PolarMRI.pdf

Comms Iridium communications systems using SBD, dial-up, and RUDICS services for year-round telemetry at all latitudes. Full system command and control available, with up to 10+ MB per day data throughput. Use off-the-shelf hardware from NAL Research and Beam Communications, or advanced Iridium devices from Xeos Technologies

Point-to-point communications are also available in the vicinity of logistics hubs, using FreeWave and Intuicom hardware.