Rushing around getting busy

Katie Joy | 5 Dec 2019

For the past few days we have all been busy testing the metal detection equipment, trouble shooting some issues with the system, and getting all the science equipment packed up and ready to go to the field.

There is a lot of gear needed for the metal detection part of the project — a single detector set up includes:

  • a skidoo mounted with a display box to signal when the metal detector has a response (see picture below)
  • a pulling rig
  • two solar panels coupled to two large batteries powering the communication electronic control box (all mounted on a bright blue sledge)
  • a boom rig
  • snow bashers, to flatten a path
  • five metal detector panels with embedded coils and their control system boxes
Metal detection assembly. [Credit: Katie Joy]

All of this is lashed together with various ropes so that it works as a single system, and includes many metres of electrical cables and network cables (in the photo above you can see what a right old mess this is before Romain neatly bundled them together to to help the rebuild when we’re in the field). We have assembled the two separate panel array systems in the cargo yard at Rothera to check that the mechanical setup is complete before we head to the field (i.e. do we have all the right screws and bolts and are not missing anything vital…).

For the past few days our resident electronic engineer Wouter has also been working hard to iron out a few issues with the electronic systems — a lot of head scratching to get to the root of the glitches, but thanks to his hard work (and thanks to Liam and John as well back in Manchester for assistance in trouble shooting, and the Rothera Comms team for their advice and loaning of switch boxes) all the control boxes are now behaving the same way as when we last ran the system in the UK (see here) — and they are now ready to deploy to the field.

Wouter working his magic in the lab at Rothera. [Credit: Katie Joy]

After several days of testing, we then finally boxed everything up into our transport cargo boxes so that they can be loaded onto the aircraft to travel our field site.

The fun will be rebuilding the rig and system when it is –20ºC, and then calibrating it for an ice surface rather than rock. Hopefully we have made our lives easier by labelling each component so that it will be a case of following the here’s-one-we-built-earlier approach to assembling the array.

The indicator box that flashes when we detect a signal from a metal-rich object in the ice. We will also be wearing an ear piece that will make a ‘ping’ noise to indicate that we have struck lucky. [Credit: Katie Joy]

Svalbard field campaign 2019 begins

Our field campaign in Svalbard to undertake the final testing of our metal detector panels has kicked off.   Here is the first update from our University of Manchester electronic engineering team, who have arrived the British Antarctic Survey’s UK Arctic Research Station.


Liam Marsh | 09 Mar 2019

Myself and fellow electrical engineers, John Wilson and Wouter van Verre arrived here in Ny-Alesund earlier this morning after a brief overnight stop in Longyearbyen. The flight from Longyearbyen was extremely smooth, and had its fantastic views of sea ice, glaciers and the rugged terrain that exists here in Svalbard. At one point in the the four flights it took us to get here, 3 out of our 5 bags were lost; against all odds all of our bags made it here in the end. None of us fancied conducting a field trial at –20 °C without the appropriate clothes to keep us warm, however, it would have been equally challenging without the equipment we were here to test.  

As is customary on arrival in Ny-Alesund there has been a lot of administration. Wouter was sent off to do the rifle training that is needed to keep us safe from polar bears, whilst myself, John and fellow scientist Arwen were dispatched to collect the 9 skidoos for the team, owing to the fact that we were the only people trained to use them having visited previously. It is quite a busy time to visit, as we are accompanied by a team from BBC Radio 4 Today show (who will be broadcasting from here all of next week), a microbiologist from Aberystwyth University, and staff from NERC and BAS — including our station leader Nick G — who is doing an excellent job of standing in for the the regular station leader Nick Cox.

For a while it felt like things were stacked against us when we found out that our two 12 V batteries (which are necessary to power our system) were discharged to a point very close to which they would be unchargeable, but thankfully it looks like we got here just in time to resurrect them. Since then things have been going a  lot better. We set up our equipment in the lab and have tested three metal detectors, and three coil panels and everything is working well. There is still some tuning needed to get the optimal sensitivity, however the response to our meteorite surrogates looks quite good and the system is showing excellent signs of resilience to vibration. The real acid test will be when we get the system outside on Sunday/Monday…

Field trials start indoors: detector panels in and electronic boxes our lab space in BAS’s Ny-Ålesund arctic research station. [Credit: Liam Marsh]

Season preparation and shipping kit south (August 2018)

Katie Joy | 01 Oct 2018
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Test metal detection panel and accessories ready to be shipped [Image: K H Joy]

In August we packed up our hire van and sent off Geoff down to the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge with our equipment for the upcoming season’s fieldwork.  We will be undertaking two separate trips – one a reconnaissance expedition to visit several blue icefields to see if they are productive meteorite concentration zones and the other to test the metal detector equipment in a cold environment.  (More about both of these trips later on in other posts).

The trip takes a lot of preparation and hard work, cumulating (until we head south in December on a plane!) in us carefully packaging all our bulky equipment up so that it can be loaded onto one of BAS’s ships that will sail south in October, arriving at Rothera base in early-mid December.

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Packing up some of the meteorite collection materials – from bags to field notebooks [Image: K H Joy]

Prior to this we have spent the last few months sourcing, purchasing and building all the field kit we might need – everything from meteorite collection kits (fancy sturdy boxes, sterile bags, collection tongs, lots of tape…) to the main plastic panels and electronic systems for the metal detectors. The guys in Electronic Engineering worked their socks off to get the system finished and tuned all in a really tight schedule. Everything needed to be inventoried and packed up carefully, which is somewhat of a challenge when we are shipping five of our huge 2 x 1.5 metre metal detection panels. Andy did a sterling job of keeping everything in check and thanks to Kath at BAS cargo for her guidance and advice.

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Having arrived safely at Cambridge, hopefully by now all our kit is loaded onto the ship, and Geoff and I will be reunited with it at Rothera base ready to head out to our field sites.

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Our field equipment heading off from the University of Manchester – on the road south… [Image: K H Joy]