2017-2018 Science Planning Summaries
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2017-2018 USAP Field Season
Project Detail

Project Title

Implementing low-power, autonomous observing systems to improve the measurement and understanding of Antarctic precipitation

The measurement of precipitation in Antarctica is made difficult by the distinction between blowing and falling snow.
Photo by Mark Seefeldt


Event Number:
NSF/OPP Award 1543377

Program Manager:
Dr. Peter Milne

ASC POC/Implementer:
Samina Ouda / Elizabeth Kauffman

Principal Investigator

Dr. Mark W Seefeldt

University of Colorado Boulder
Boulder, Colorado


Supporting Stations: McMurdo Station
Research Locations: Williams Field / Phoenix Airfield / Alexander Tall Tower / Elaine AWS


This project's objectives focus on improving measurement of precipitation in Antarctica, advancing understanding of precipitation processes, and using this knowledge to evaluate weather and climate models. Precipitation measurement in Antarctica is inherently difficult because of the small amount of annual precipitation and the challenge of distinguishing falling snow from blowing snow. However, accurate measurement is critical for calculating Antarctica’s mass balance and contribution to global sea-level rise, interpreting ice-core records, and providing benchmarks for promising model- and satellite-based precipitation estimates.

Field Season Overview

A science team of two will install the APSs at four University of Wisconsin automatic weather station (AWS) sites: Williams Field, Alexander Tall Tower, Phoenix Airfield, and Elaine. Lorne AWS site is a backup site, accessible by helicopter, should the weather or priorities negate the chance to visit Elaine AWS by Twin Otter aircraft. The premier observation site will be co-located with the Williams Field AWS site. The team expects to complete the installations in one day of field work, except for the Williams Field and Phoenix sites, which can be accessed by truck on multiple days.

Although the APS sites are co-located at AWS sites, the projects will remain independent of each other in installation, power, and communications. The precipitation systems will run continuously and year around. The APS dataloggers will use Iridium or 900MHz radio, depending on location, to conduct the communications with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The project science team, including representatives from NCAR, will adjust the measurement algorithms, using the two-way comms, throughout the year to ensure the right balance between observations and power resources. The dataloggers include on-board data storage systems for the webcam images and higher frequency data collection for data that is too large for transmission by Iridium or radio. The storage systems are capable of collecting at least one year of data so that the images and data can be stored and retrieved during subsequent field visits. UNAVCO will support the project by supplying the power systems for all four APS sites. The support by UNAVCO will provide the opportunity to leverage UNAVCO's pool resources, as well as to return the systems to their pool.

Deploying Team Members

  • Scott Landolt (Co-PI)
  • Mark Seefeldt (PI)