Antarctica: Scientists of Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) at the University of Kansas studying the behaviour of the world's ice sheets successfully tested the use of a small, lightweight unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with integrated, light-weight radar to look through the ice and map the topography underlying rapidly moving glaciers.
In a paper published in the journal IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Magazine, researchers at the CReSIS report how they successfully tested the UAV at a field camp in West Antarctica, with support from the National Science Foundation's Division of Polar Programs and the State of Kansas.
Such measurements would be far too expensive and technically challenging to carry out with manned aircraft, but the light weight and small size of the vehicle and sensor enable them to be easily transported to remote field locations and the airborne manoeuvrability enables the tight flight patterns required for fine scale imaging.
The drone has a takeoff weight of about 38.5kg and a range of approximately 100km, while the compact radar system weighs only two kilograms, and the antenna is structurally integrated into the wing of the aircraft.
With the successful test completed in the Antarctic, the researchers will begin analyzing the data collected during this field season, miniaturizing the radar further and reducing its weight to 1.5kg or less, and increasing the UAV radar transmitting power.
In the coming months, they will also perform additional test flights in Kansas to further evaluate the avionics and flight-control systems, as well as optimize the radar and transmitting systems.
In 2014 or 2015, they plan to deploy the vehicle to Greenland to collect data over areas with extremely rough surfaces and fast-flowing glaciers, such as Jakobshavn, which is among the fastest flowing glaciers in the world.