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Building a magnetometer chain at the South Pole

South Pole 2011

Read more about the team's adventures in the 2011 Annual Report Article: Deep freeze: space science takes ECE to Antarctica.

visiting the South Pole antenna

The 2012 Antarctica Team — from left: Bob McPherron, Bob Clauer, Majid Manteghi, Joseph Macon, and Hyomin Kim.

For the past four years, a space weather team led by ECE professor Robert Clauer has sent researchers to the South Pole. As part of a $2.39 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the team is deploying seven autonomous data collection stations in Antarctica. There are unique difficulties associated with the project, but also a unique payoff: these are measurements that no one has taken before.

Each system is autonomous and designed to operate unattended for at least five years on the east Antarctic plateau. Data are acquired at Virginia Tech in near real time using satellites.

When fully deployed, the chain of data platforms will help with studies of global phenomena from the solar wind/magnetosphere interaction. Specifically, researchers will be able to observe the changes in the electrodynamic circuit formed by the solar wind coupled to both polar ionospheres by magnetic field lines.

This year, ECE assistant professor Majid Manteghi was part of the team that travelled to the South Pole. They installed three more stations at the South Pole Research Station for their year-long testing, and moved one station to a more permanent location on the east Antarctic plateau 400 miles away. The team also did testing with high frequency (HF) radios that they hope to use in future stations. Each station already has an Iridium radio, and the team would like to add an HF radio. The Iridium radio has been working well, but the HF radio would provide additional benefits.

The Iridium radio requires initialization time before it can communicate, explains Manteghi, and sometimes they need immediate communication between stations. “For example, if an ionospheric storm hits one station, the others need to know to immediately begin collecting data.” The HF radio performed well during testing, and the new stations will use both radios.