Drones will help glaciologists to trace the movement of glaciers

Swiss engineers have developed and tested a drone system of placing GPS sensors on glaciers. This approach allows to go once again to the glacier people, with the risk of cracks in the ice, as well as faster, cheaper and more environmentally friendly than the use of helicopters, which are used to deliver sensors in hard to reach places. Brief description of the project available on the website of the Swiss polar Institute, video field test the system published on YouTube.

The average global temperature of the planet is now about one degree higher than the mid-nineteenth century (pre-industrial) and the rate of melting glaciers has been increasing recently, as evidenced by many studies including, for example, such a disappointing forecasts: by the year 2100 can melt two-thirds of the Himalayan glaciers by 2050 — half Alpine.

All of these predictions, however, to certain approximate and are based on models that in turn rely on data collected by glaciologists in the field. In the General case, the mass of mountain glaciers is affected by two main parameters: the rate of growth/loss of glacier mass and its speed. For measuring the speed of movement of the glaciologists have to manually post them on the GPS sensors, which move together with the ice masses and can accurately record the distance, which during that time was a glacier. Typically, these sensors bring the foot that is quite dangerous due to deep cracks and hard to reach areas them delivered by helicopter, which is expensive and time consuming.

Alternatively, engineers from Swiss polar Institute suggested using a system of two drones for the successful delivery of the sensors. First quadcopter conducts mapping of the area, then the system selects a suitable place to embed the sensor. Then there’s flying Autonomous quadcopter that delivers the sensor in a 3D printed housing to the desired point and drops from a height of 10-20 inches on the ice. Each drone is equipped with radar and lidar, as well as premaratne camera all the sensors necessary for the drone to clear estimation of the distance to the surface and mapping of the area.

In the summer of 2019, the engineers tested the system on the Gorner glacier in Switzerland and found that part of the delivery of the sensor system is working successfully. The hexacopter in Autonomous mode delivered pound the sensor in the desired location 800 metres from take-off point. Reset mechanism worked normally and the spring legs 3D-printed housing has softened the blow sensor on the ice. After that, the drone yourself back to the start. It’s cheaper, faster and greener than the use of a helicopter, and safer than to send people to place sensors on the surface of the glacier, say the developers.

At this stage, the engineers are working on a similar scheme of return of the sensors is also planned to use the drone, but snehu it will hang the network that the drone needs to pick up the sensor for one of the hooks on the housing. So far, the experiments are conducted in ideal conditions on flat ground, but in the near future, the developers plan to proceed to field trials.

Drones to help people in the mountains and in a more familiar way — a few years ago, the Swiss company Flyability and Sarmatskaya mountain search and rescue service spent in the Alps test a drone equipped with protective spherical frame on the suspension, so he is not afraid to crash into obstacles. In these tests, the lifeguard without prior training by a drone successfully examined a crack in the glacier, with drone several times touched the wall, but not lost control. About the other uses of drones, see the section “Robots and drones”.

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