Virtual Geology Field Trip to Heard Island

Dr. Bill Mitchell (AE0EE) setting up a Gigapan image at the Windy City outcrop, Heard Island. Image credit: Carlos Nascimento NP4IW

Dr. Bill Mitchell (AE0EE) setting up a Gigapan image at the Windy City outcrop, Heard Island.
Image credit: Carlos Nascimento NP4IW

Over at The Inquisitive Rockhopper blog, Bill (AE0EE) has put together a series of posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) showcasing interesting geologic features and outcrops at Heard Island, including Windy City (seen above). These are meant as a virtual field trip, providing access to Heard Island for all those who are unable to go themselves. The last post in the series is about Bill’s favorite outcrop on the island, and has a corresponding video that provides additional perspectives on it.

In large part, this geo-imaging project was made possible through a partnership with Prof. Callan Bentley of Northern Virginia Community College, supported by the GEODE project through NSF DUE 1323419. Prof. Bentley advertised on his blog that he had a robotic camera mount for taking high-resolution panoramic pictures—and the software to stitch them together—available to scientists traveling to interesting locations to take pictures to make these places more accessible. After a brief email exchange, we secured the loan of one of the units for the Heard Island expedition. Although the conditions in the field made it difficult to get the camera out, we hope that you will enjoy the results of this partnership.

VK0EK Log Analysis

Contacts by day and hour (UTC), colored by band.  Can you spot the geomagnetic storm?

Contacts by day and hour (UTC), colored by band. Can you spot the geomagnetic storm?

As an avid user of the statistical software R, Bill (AE0EE) did some analysis of the VK0EK log database. The Log Analysis (88 kB PDF) contains many tables and a few figures, which give glimpses into the statistical side of the VK0EK operation.

In the data, it is clear that the there was a strong diurnal cycle to propagation, and a sharp decline in the maximum usable frequency in the late afternoon local (around 1300 UTC). Additionally, the effects of the geomagnetic storm can be seen in the hour-by-hour time series shown above, where on April 3rd and 4th, the high rates typical of other afternoons did not materialize.

Cape Town to Heard Island: Video from Bill, AE0EE

Bill, AE0EE, has created a video which encompasses the voyage of the Braveheart from Cape Town through the landing on Heard Island. In it, not only is there the rolling of the sea, but the deployment of two types of scientific buoys. First up is an ARGO diving buoy, followed by a NOAA drift buoy. The birds seen as the ship arrives at Atlas Cove are the endemic Heard Island cormorants. Upon reaching the island, our team was greeted by king penguins.

Inmarsat Government Announces Expedition Support

Heard Island team member Bill MItchell tends the satellite link to the internet, enabled by Inmarsat BGAN 710 terminals, seen at his left. One terminal was dedicated to the radio operations, providing real-time online updates of the radio log. The other terminals were used for administration and personal communications. The terminal speed was sufficient to enable several first-time innovations, including Skype calls and remote radio operation.

Heard Island team member Bill MItchell tends the satellite link to the internet, enabled by Inmarsat BGAN 710 terminals, seen at his left. One terminal was dedicated to the radio operations, providing real-time online updates of the radio log. The other terminals were used for administration and personal communications. The terminal speed was sufficient to enable several first-time innovations, including Skype calls and remote radio operation.

 

June 3, 2016. Inmarsat Government today released the following announcement:

Inmarsat Government Connects Antarctic Heard Island Expedition

Inmarsat’s BGAN Satellite Services Play Critical Role in Success of Expedition by Delivering Highly Reliable Communications Support in Extreme Remote Polar Region

Inmarsat Government, a leading provider of secure, global, mission-critical telecommunications to the U.S. government, today announced that it has successfully supported the 2016 Heard Island Project, a multidisciplinary expedition to a remote island in the Southern Ocean.

The purpose of this three-week expedition, undertaken by Cordell Expeditions, a nonprofit research organization based in northern California, is to provide new information about Heard Island’s harsh volcanic environment and to validate satellite communications in severe, and extremely isolated, environments in the Antarctic.

The Heard Island Project’s goal is to bring technology to challenges of worldwide need and interest. The results from this expedition will help scientists better understand the effects of climate change in polar regions and the ability of models to predict the consequences of actions or inactions in facing this challenge.

Other areas of focus included: searching for unknown species that may have been revealed by recent major glacial retreat; confirming the group’s recent discovery of subterranean rivers carrying glacial meltwater; documenting plastic debris from sources worldwide; and collecting samples of the environment that are expected to contain cryptobiota – organisms that have the ability to suspend metabolism for years or decades in the face of extreme conditions of cold, heat, desiccation or toxic chemicals.

Inmarsat Government provided satellite communication services used to enable radio propagation analysis, TV broadcasts, video secondary school classroom education, video communication and blogging. During the expedition, Inmarsat’s reliable and easy-to-use Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) service kept worldwide followers updated promptly of expedition activities. Inmarsat Government provided terminals and managed communication services to support the base station and remote scientific teams collecting samples and important documentation of the environment including its unique flora and fauna.

Inmarsat’s BGAN service played a key role in the expedition’s radio science (medium frequency (MF) and higher frequency (HF) propagation experiments) as they contacted over 75,000 other stations during unusual solar geomagnetic conditions. It also enabled reliable communications with the science teams when they travelled to a number of areas remote from the base camp to gather samples (that will go to universities for analysis of lava content, biota, glacier stream chemical composition and more) and conduct high resolution (“Gigapan”) photography of the many unusual features here. “Inmarsat Government’s support helped advance the use of satellite communications from this extreme, isolated, environment in the sub-Antarctic region. The availability and reliability of Inmarsat’s satellite communication services enabled a qualitatively better capability for the expedition to communicate its activities to the general public, ensure safety, and provide for real-time interactive scientific collaboration,” said Kenneth Karr, Heard Island Expedition. “In particular, it helped facilitate conferencing for scientific collaboration and emergency response, and the ability to upload archival images and data in the most challenging weather conditions that included high winds, driving snow, sleet and volcanic grit that blows with the wind – at times reaching 80 mph.”

The group carried out a major amateur radio operation using the call sign VKØEK. Unlike any other similar amateur radio operation, the Cordell Expeditions group developed a unique technology that enables near real-time internet display of the radio operations. The system, called DXA, uploads the radio log data through Inmarsat satellites to an internet server once per minute, providing viewers with an almost real-time graphical interface to the expedition. DXA was first deployed on an expedition to Kure Atoll in the Pacific in 2005 and then on a second expedition to Clipperton Island in 2013, On both of those expeditions, the DXA website received 40 million hits, attesting to its popularity and the value of real-time data from the expedition. The latest version (DXA3) was deployed on Heard Island; it can be seen on line now at http://dxa.vk0ek.org.

“Supporting this expedition further demonstrates that Inmarsat’s services are best-in-class when it comes to delivering dependable ‘on-the-move’ communications – in any location or weather condition,” said Gabe Venturi, Chief Commercial Officer, Inmarsat Government. “No matter where they are on the map, users seek highly available connectivity for reliable access to the information and services essential for mission success. It has been a privilege to support the Heard Island Expedition and do our part in further advancing scientific exploration.”

For more information about the Heard Island Expedition please contact the expedition Organizer/Leader Dr. Robert Schmieder, at schmieder@cordell.org.

For further information

Inmarsat Government Inmarsat, Inc
Britt Lewis Alena Koci
Sr. Vice President, Sales & Marketing Vice President, Marketing
Britt.Lewis@inmarsatgov.com alena.koci@inmarsat.com

About Inmarsat Government

Inmarsat Government is a leading provider of secure, reliable and affordable mission-critical telecommunications to U.S. military, intelligence and civilian organizations. Equipped with the industry’s leading satellite and terrestrial infrastructure, it delivers custom, end-to-end networks and solutions that can sustain communications anytime, anywhere. Inmarsat Government, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Inmarsat plc, and an authorized Value Added Reseller (VAR) for Inmarsat Global Xpress, is responsible for Inmarsat’s retail U.S. government business. It is headquartered in Reston, VA, with network assets and operations around the globe.

About Inmarsat

Inmarsat plc is the leading provider of global mobile satellite communications services. Since 1979, Inmarsat has been providing reliable voice and high-speed data communications to governments, enterprises and other organizations, with a range of services that can be used on land, at sea or in the air. Inmarsat employs around 1,600 staff in more than 60 locations around the world, with a presence in the major ports and centers of commerce on every continent. Inmarsat is listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE:ISAT.L). For more information, please visit www.inmarsat.com. The Inmarsat press release newsfeed and corporate updates are on Twitter @InmarsatGlobal.
“No matter where they are on the map, users seek highly available connectivity for reliable access to the information and services essential for mission success. It has been a privilege to support the Heard Island Expedition and do our part in further advancing scientific exploration.”

 

Special Message from the Expedition Leader

Expedition Organizer and Leader Robert Schmieder KK6EK on Heard Island. Behind him are a large bay and glaciers, lying in view from the VKØEK campsite.  Image credit: Bill Mitchell.

Expedition Organizer and Leader Robert Schmieder KK6EK on Heard Island. Behind him are a large bay and glaciers, lying in view from the VKØEK campsite. Image credit: Bill Mitchell.


May 5, 2016. You probably know most of the news already: We sailed from Cape Town on schedule (March 10), and arrived at Heard Island March 22, after a rather rough, and long, ride on the Braveheart. The next day we began transporting our gear and the team to the island, and setting up our camp. In less than 15 hours, we went on the air and started logging contacts, displaying them in nearly real-time on our special graphic online log DXA.

Over the next 20 days we erected the full set of antennas, and worked into a routine of activities. Most of the team worked the pile-ups, logging around 4000 contact each day with up to six stations. Two team members were there to explore the island, document glacier retreat, collect samples of the rocks, soil, and water, and provide additional manpower for the myriad tasks such as filling generators, repairing equipment, and transporting our supplies from the beach (about 500 m away). The Braveheart crew made extraordinary effort, supplying us with food and transporting the field scientists to remote parts of the island.

Finally, on April 11, a month after we left South Africa, we struck camp and beat a retreat as winter weather began closing in on us. The entire campsite was dismantled and transported to the Braveheart in less than 9 hours, and as is our requirement, we left the campsite completely clean. Altogether we accumulated 75,000 radio contacts, about 50 rock specimens, about 20 soil samples, and about 15 glacial water samples. The team also came back with 450 GB of photographs.

Thanks to our Inmarsat BGAN terminals, we had a reasonably fast connection to the internet, and we were able to carry on extensive communications with family, the support team, and many individual DXers and scientists. Much of our effort was made possible by the extensive and innovative support teams: The Diablo Dxers organized and led by so-Organizer Rich Holoch KY6R, by souvenir manager Manny Rodriguez K4MSR, and by support teams in Cape Town (Paul ZS1S) and Perth (Keith VK6RK). In particular, the extensive outreach via social media, implemented by the Diablo DXers, clearly was a major advance, and (we hope!) represents a new standard for future DXpeditions.

Although there was the usual interference and criticism of the VKØEK operation, and we were not able to obtain the number of QSOs and hydro-bio-geological specimens we had hoped due to the extremely challenging weather and disappointedly poor radio propagation, we are quite happy with the operation, and hope you agree it was worth the effort and the support. For all of you who did support us financially and in other ways, thanks you so much. All of us, and all of you, can say:


“I helped make it happen!”

We’ll soon be presenting more details of the Heard Island Expedition, and we invite your continued interest and interactions.

Bob KK6EK

The Voyage is Over, but the Project Continues

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Sun sets on Carlos (NP4IW) and the Braveheart as it nears Fremantle.  Image credit: Bill Mitchell (AE0EE)

A week ago, the Braveheart arrived at port in Fremantle.  The expedition team had a busy day unloading the ship and clearing customs and quarantine.

That day marked the beginning of a transition: the voyage was over, and the team would soon separate.  Today, the expedition members are again scattered across the globe, many (but not all!) back at home and returning to their pre-expedition routine.  The expedition is over.

Despite being home, the project is not over.  Data collected on the island are being processed, analyzed, and prepared into reports.  Pictures and videos are being reviewed, documented, annotated, and turned into presentations both for scientific audiences and amateur radio clubs.  Team members are writing preliminary reports on the projects they led, to contribute to the comprehensive report on the expedition which will be submitted to the Australian Antarctic Division by mid-June as specified in the permit.

In California, the Bay Area warehouse team will reassemble in a few weeks to receive the expedition gear coming back to the US by shipping container.  Everything will be unpacked and separated.  Samples will be sent to collaborating scientists, loaned equipment will be returned, and excess expedition equipment will be liquidated.

Although the radio operation is over, behind the scenes quite a bit of work is still ongoing to bring this expedition to a close.

73, Bill AE0EE