Collaborative Research: Science Opportunities for a Multidisciplinary Long-Range Aircraft for Antarctic Research
The polar regions play a critical role in Earth's climatic and geodynamic systems. Although located far from the main centers of human civilization, the polar atmosphere and oceans have strong global ... connections and therefore directly affect global weather, climate, and the world's population. Over geologic time scales, Antarctic geodynamic processes are a major influence on ice-sheet dynamics and global environmental change, which affects current and long-term, large-scale sea level changes.
Currently, we have a physically based, conceptual understanding of many of the significant interactions that impact climate and the Antarctic environment. To transform this conceptual understanding into quantitative knowledge, it is necessary to acquire geographically diverse sets of fundamental observations at a range of spatial and temporal resolutions. Satellite data provide needed continent-wide coverage, but they often have limited spatial resolution and provide virtually no sub-surface information. They also require extensive calibration and validation, which can be difficult or impossible to obtain in the Antarctic. Data collected from remote field camps, seagoing vessels, and small aircraft provide only point sources of information on a continental scale. The mobile research platforms currently in use lack the capability to sample rapidly enough to include the daily to weekly time scale of atmospheric and oceanic processes over continent-wide scales. The spatial scale gap and temporal-scale gap in data collection can best be filled by a long-range, ski-equipped aircraft dedicated to Antarctic research.
To address these data gaps, the Antarctic solid Earth, glaciology, atmospheric science, and oceanographic communities came together at a workshop in September 2004 in Herndon, Virginia. At the workshop, they formulated a scientific justification for a long-range research aviation facility and identified key scientific questions that need to be addressed. Target areas extend over both continental and oceanic regions. Different survey designs and sensor configurations are required to address each key question. Workshop participants defined several generic mission profiles that would achieve most scientific goals.
Common to all mission profiles is the need for an aircraft capable of carrying an integrated payload of remote-sensing and in situ instrumentation over long distances. Almost all mission profiles require data acquisition in regions more than a thousand nautical miles from existing landing sites for wheeled aircraft in Antarctica. To get to the target area and be able to survey for several hours requires aircraft endurance of at least 10 hours or the ability to refuel in remote locations. Flights that maintain altitudes from a few hundred meters to at least 7 km are required. Atmospheric physics and chemistry research require a long-range aircraft with significant load-carrying capability. Payload requirements range from 2,500 lbs for solid Earth and glaciology missions to 12,000 lbs for atmospheric chemistry missions.
The range of instrumentation that needs to be supported, and the wide variety of data that will be collected, by a multidisciplinary, instrumented, long-range research aircraft creates operational complexity, which requires a central management and operations facility. Existing research aviation facilities generally do not cover the broad range of disciplines represented at the workshop and do not support the variety of sensors envisioned for the long-range Antarctic research aviation facility. The development and operation of such a facility would be a unique undertaking.
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