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ECE team establishes data platforms at South Pole

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Read a previous article from the 2010 annual report: Space@VT Building Chain of Instrument Stations in Antarctica

Read a previous article from the 2008 annual report: Exploring Space Weather from Antarctica

ECE team on arrival (Photograph courtesy of Bob Clauer)

The ECE team arriving in Antarctica on Dec. 21, 2010.

January 12, 2011 —An ECE research team spent the winter holidays in Antarctica, establishing data collection platforms that, when deployed, will help with studies of global phenomena from the solar wind/magnetosphere interaction.

Led by Professor Robert Clauer, the team included post-doctoral researcher Hyomin Kim and graduate students Kshitija Deshpande and Joseph Macon.

The team successfully set up two data collection platforms for testing. Platform instruments include a fluxgate magnetometer, induction magnetometer, and dual frequency GPS receiver. Each system is autonomous and designed to operate unattended for at least five years on the east Antarctic plateau. Data is acquired at Virginia Tech in near real time using Iridium satellites.

Ceremony to mark the location of the 2001 South Pole

Since the ice cap moves, the geographic location of the rotational pole is surveyed and relocated each January 1. The pole is marked each year with a special marker as shown here. During the ceremony, the marker is passed from hand to hand by the people assembled, from the old pole location to the new pole location. Shown here, ECE's Kshitija Deshpande hands the marker to Bob Clauer during the ceremony.

If the tests are successful, the two systems will be deployed next year as part of a chain of measurement stations along the 40-degree magnetic meridian -- magnetically conjugate (reciprocal) to an existing chain of magnetometers along the west coast of Greenland. Data collection at both poles will enable measurements of high latitude electrodynamic phenomena at polar winter and polar summer simultaneously.

In addition to setting up new platforms, Kim and Macon went to the east Antarctic plateau to retrieve an earlier version of the system that had quit working. That system is being returned to the United States for diagnosis and repair.

The team accomplished its mission and is now studying data coming from the two systems at the South Pole to evaluate the operation of the instruments.

The project is part of a $2.39 million effort funded by the National Science Foundation.