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The Arctic is a remote area with harsh weather conditions. Maritime operations in this region require precise forecasting and accurate observations of the current conditions. During the recent CIRFA cruise to the Fram Strait with the research vessel Kronprins Haakon, NORCE researchers used drones and radar systems to collect observation data. The observations are used to improve situational awareness and to improve remote sensing models.
The vessel Kronprins Haakon on a visit to the Fram Strait.
In April, a group of researchers boarded the research vessel Kronprins Haakon bound for the Fram Strait between Svalbard and Greenland. The common goal was trifold: to compare satellite data with real world observations of sea ice and snow, to collect data for oceanographic models, and to test new technology for drone based remote sensing.
The cruise was coordinated by the Centre for integrated remote sensing and forecasting for arctic operations (CIRFA).
CIRFA aims to develop new technology and systems for maritime surveillance and forecasting in the Arctic by combining multi-platform remote sensing, surface based measurements and numerical short-term forecast modelling. NORCE is one of the research partners in the centre, which is hosted by UiT the Arctic University of Norway.
On this cruise, NORCE’s research team operated a suite of different unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems, including multirotor, fixed wing, and vertical take-off and landing systems. The main objective was to collect observations of sea ice drift, as well as ice coverage and type, at different positions both in drift ice and fast ice.
A secondary objective was to demonstrate a real-time operational sea-ice navigation support system called nLive, that integrates current observations of sea-ice state collected using long-endurance drones, with observations from satellite synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) data. The drone images were transferred in real-time to the ground station over a broadband link, and the nLive visualization and operational support system were updated with the latest images. After the flight, a orthomosaic was generated, consisting of direct georeferenced images projected on the sea surface.
Quick view mosaic of images taken on the second flight of the Shark drone. The area is approximately 8 km x 6 km.
The nLive visualization tool was used for both planning operations, but also allowed cruise participants and crew on bridge to follow and interact with the ongoing UAS operations. For two of the flights, the data was also shared in real time with the NORCE nLive server in Tromsø using the ships VSAT connection. This allowed people on the mainland to monitor the ongoing operations in real-time, as well as interact with the UAS operation, via a regular web browser.
During the cruise, the NORCE developed nLive visualization and operational support system, was used extensively for operational support and for planning and observation of ongoing drone operations.
During the cruise, NORCE operated different Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and radar systems. The main payload onboard the UAS systems were optical sensors, providing optical imagery, which is very valuable for validation purposes by providing information about ice morphology.
One multirotor system was used to deploy ice drift buoys on icebergs. The GPS-trackers will monitor the icebergs’ drift patterns over time.
William Copeland, MET Norway
The baby Shark is a fixed wing drone with a wingspan of 2.5 meters. The drone is fitted with cameras providing automatic exposure control and georeferencing the images in real time before sharing the images with the ground station and the nLive server.
NORCE also used a multirotor drone equipped with an ultra-wideband radar system. The radar can detect layers in the snow and ice, and was operated along selected profiles where also snow and ice samples were collected. The radar transmits a wideband pseudo noise signal that can penetrate dry and wet snow as well as resolving thin layers in the snow stratigraphy.
On board the vessel, NORCE operated an imaging Ku-band radar system. This radar was mainly operated during the periods where the vessel was stationary in the ice, providing valuable information about ice drift and ice conditions.
The radar was mounted on the helicopter deck on starboard side
The overall ambition of CIRFA is that the centre will become a knowledge hub for research and development on Arctic surveillance technologies, with leading expertise in disciplines such as remote sensing, signal processing, radar technology, RPAS technology, data assimilation and numerical modelling. The CIRFA consortium consists of 6 research partners (UiT, Norut, MET.NO, NPI, NTNU, NERSC) and 12 industry partners (both service providers and end-users).Learn more about CIRFA at cirfa.uit.no