A team led by Chinese researchers has publicized the fine-scale surface features of the Antarctic sea ice by using drones to obtain high-resolution images and data, according to a research reported in the international journal Remote Sensing.
In 2016 and 2017, scientists from Beijing Normal University took part in China’s 33rd Antarctic expedition. With the help of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) "Polar Hawk-III," they gathered remote sensing data of sea ice in the east Antarctic, to offer assistance for China's research vessel and icebreaker Xuelong (Snow Dragon).
Chinese scientists have for the first time used drone technology in surveying and mapping huge areas of Antarctic sea ice. Formerly, scientists had to take a GPS and board a helicopter to explore, according to Li Teng, a scientist in the research.
The UAV observations have delivered comprehensive characterizations of sea ice surface topography, particularly the fine-scale features of ice ridges, which is still a difficulty for satellite systems.
Scientists trust the UAV observations will have wide application opportunities in polar exploration and sea ice research, such as helping guide icebreakers, tracking sea ice melting processes, and minimizing transportation hazards.
Researchers from Newcastle University and Northumbria University in Britain and Environment Canada also took part in the research.
The Polar Hawk-III is a fixed-wing drone with an in-built remote sensing system. It was developed in collaboration with Feima Robotics Laboratory and Beijing Normal University. It consists of a 1.6 m wingspan, weighs about 3.3 kg, and costs US $6,500.