Visual inspections of sea ice layers in the Antarctic - Alfred Wegener Institute uses visatec products on expedition
The Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), is Germany’s leading polar research institute. In addition to operating the Polarstern research icebreaker and the “Neumayer-Station III” Antarctic research station, the work of its scientists also includes research into the sea ice cover in the polar oceans.
During an expedition to the Antarctic, the research team led by AWI sea ice physicists Mario Hoppmann and Marcel Nicolaus conducted visual inspections of sea ice layers in the Atka Bay close to the Neumayer-Station III research station (eastern Weddell Sea). To ensure the successful implementation of the research, the scientists had already procured a camera system for visual inspection from the company visatec. The objective was more detailed research into a phenomenon whereby individual ice platelets collect beneath the firm ice on the surface.
Despite the fact that this layer, which is several metres thick, was discovered back in 1981, the system still remains little understood. The ice platelets form deep in the ocean when water masses reach below the Antarctic ice sheet where they are cooled down. The ice platelets created float to the surface, where they collect and are slowly incorporated into the ice layer above. This type of ice formation is a special process, because the growth of sea ice usually takes place on the sea surface (due to the cold atmosphere). A further positive effect: numerous organisms live in the vicinity of the ice platelets, finding a perfect “home” here.
The preservation of the sea ice firmly anchored to the coasts is of great significance in terms of the equilibrium of the global climate and ecosystem. At the same time only a few lines of research into these systems exist because they are extremely difficult to reach. Research into the ice platelets below the solid ice in particular represents problems for scientists, because they are covered by a layer of snow and ice several metres thick and there is next to no light below them. During the Antarctic summer of 2012, the visatec cameras gave scientists a unique insight into the fascinating world beneath the ice for the first time.
The visatec system played a key role in the expedition. The unique specifications of the camera system greatly simplified the work of the scientists. For example, it was only necessary to drill a 5 centimetre hole in the ice layer to guide the camera system under the ice, facilitating research into the various layers – the snow layer, sea ice, ice platelets and ocean.
The use of the camera system to visually inspect the ice platelets made it possible to record a total of 20 hours of material below the surface of the ice. The system consisted of a battery and control unit, a 50 metre long lead and a highly specialised camera head. The power supply was guaranteed by a generator, whilst a conventional USB Video Grabber transferred the data from the camera to a Toughbook and from there to a recording device.
The “platelet camera”, as the visatec system was christened during the expedition, is ideal for determining the thickness of ice platelets and for generating previously inaccessible images of the world beneath the Antarctic sea ice.
Once again visatec – leaders in the development and manufacture of visual inspection systems, text inserters, manipulators and remote controlled manipulators and ROVs – has been able to demonstrate the diversity of its products, which delivered sensational results, even under the extreme conditions that prevail in the Antarctic.
(Copyright of image - Alfred-Wegener-Institute)