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Seeing the Weather - One Station at a Time

Installing weather stations in the bitter-cold of Antarctica is all in a day’s work for Ronald Ross, an Australian-based independent electrical consultant. Ronald first collaborated with ANI's parent company Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE) in 2007, to design and install a synoptic automatic weather station (AWS) at the threshold of Patriot Hills ice runway. Since then, Ronald has visited Antarctica more than a dozen times and partnered with a variety of agencies. His weather stations have been used for such diverse applications as monitoring ice thickness on the Larsen Ice Shelf to observing a penguin colony near McMurdo Station.

ALE now manages three weather stations and Ronald spent several weeks during the 2013 season servicing and upgrading the installations. All the stations report key weather data by Iridium links, providing information in a region where there would otherwise be a blank in the weather maps.

Wx7

Wx7 is located at Union Glacier ice runway and uploads three pairs of images each day during the season: early morning, midday and late afternoon. The images are used by the IL76 Captain in Punta Arenas, as they provide good view of the daily progression of weather at the runway.

Wx7 has operated continuously since it was moved from Patriot Hills to Union Glacier ice runway in 2010. Six years of high UV exposure and snow reflection had left the plastic dome with a yellow cast and 'snow buffing' made images appear fuzzy and so in the early part of the season the camera dome was changed. Right after the dome was replaced, Sue Staniland, our Punta Arenas operations manager, commented that everything now looked clear and sharp in the daily photo uploads.

A graded marker pole was placed on the blue ice in front of Wx7 camera. This will allow us to track the increase and decrease of the blue ice over the years. A few other maintenance checks were done; tightening of bolts and guy wires to make the Wx7 ready for another winter. The 2014 winter might be it's last as we plan to replace Wx7 with a newer updated system next season. More on that later…

Wx8

Wx8, at Thiel Mountains, is the furthest south of any ALE weather station. It is situated half-way to the South Pole and provides real-time photos and data for our South Pole flights.

The AWS was partially dismantled at the end of the 2012-13 season, as it had suffered four hard winters at the Thiel Mountains ski-way and needed repairs. An upgraded Wx8 was built in Sydney during 2013 and shipped to Punta Arenas in October. The new Wx8 has the same weather functions as the original: wind speed, wind direction, gust, pressure, humidity and temperature. In addition, a UV sensor was added to the up/down solar sensors and temperature, humidity and pressure sensors were added inside the shelter box.

In November Ronald and ANI mechanic, Espen Aasen flew to the Thiels ski-way and spent two days retrofitting the Wx8 tower with new parts. Although it was -20C (-4F), the weather was almost perfect for doing this type of work, with sunny skies and very light winds. They also had a nice surprise when the Thiels traverse crew arrived early one morning.

The Wx8 location gets a fair amount of snow drift each winter. The wind turbines that keep the Wx8 batteries charged in the winter had not been repositioned for several years and a good hour of digging was needed to find the base of each pole, almost 2m (6 ft) down! They are now reset with 1.8m (5 ft 10 inches) of pole above the surface. A marker pole similar to the one at Wx7 was placed in front of the Wx8 camera to track snow accumulation.

The goal is to log year-round weather, a challenge when Wx8 is exposed to -55C (-67F) and sometimes even lower temperatures at the end of each winter in late July and August! The internal electronics are designed to operate down to -40C and so need to be insulated from the extreme cold, if they are to work. To this end, the electronics have been housed in a small cavity made from a wooden box lined with lots of insulation. It's hoped that the heat generated by the electronics will keep the insulated cavity sufficiently warm that the electronics will operate throughout the winter. Two small heaters inside the cavity can be powered to inject more heat if needed. Check back in July/August to see the results on the web plots.

Wx11

Wx11 is a camera and weather station located high up on the Sky Train Ice Rise, approximately 80km (50 miles) from Union Glacier camp. The purpose of the Wx11 camera is to give our meteorologists a remote view of the low cloud and fog that tends to build in the Weddell Sea in late December and early January. This cloud can drift slowly towards Union Glacier and settle over camp, hampering aircraft movement. Wx11 is radio linked back to Union Glacier camp, providing a constant stream of images and weather data to our meteorologist’s laptop. Because the camera is situated high up on the ice rise it can monitor cloud formation far off in the distance and give our Met team early warning of approaching low cloud and fog.

A small group flew out to Wx11 in November to check on the Wx11 radio system and then returned in early January with spares to make it fully operational again. Wx11 is programmed to power up and come online in November when our camp opens and to power down at the end of February when camp closes and to sleep through the winter.

Other AWS Projects

For more information about AWS projects that Ronald has been involved in.

www.fondriest.com/news/camera-equipped-antarctic-weather-stations-track-climate-iceberg-breakup-penguins.htm

www.thistle.org