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  • Autonomous GPR Surveys using the Polar Rover Yeti

    Abstract: The National Science Foundation operates stations on the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland to investigate Earth’s climate history, life in extreme environments, and the evolution of the cosmos. Understandably, logistics costs predominate budgets due to the remote locations and harsh environments involved. Currently, manual ground-penetrating radar (GPR) surveys must preceed vehicle travel across polar ice sheets to detect subsurface crevasses or other voids. This exposes the crew to the risks of undetected hazards. We have developed an autonomous rover, Yeti, specifically to conduct GPR surveys across polar ice sheets. It is a simple four-wheel-drive, battery-powered vehicle that executes autonomous surveys via GPS waypoint following. We describe here three recent Yeti deployments, two in Antarctica and one in Greenland. Our key objective was to demonstrate the operational value of a rover to locate subsurface hazards. Yeti operated reliably at −30 ◦C, and it has good oversnow mobility and adequate GPS accuracy for waypoint-following and hazard georeferencing. It has acquired data on hundreds of crevasse encounters to improve our understanding of heavily crevassed traverse routes and to develop automated crevasse-detection algorithms. Importantly, it helped to locate a previously undetected buried building at the South Pole. Yeti can improve safety by decoupling survey personnel from the consequences of undetected hazards. It also enables higher-quality systematic surveys to improve hazard-detection probabilities, increase assessment confidence, and build datasets to understand the evolution of these regions. Yeti has demonstrated that autonomous vehicles have great potential to improve the safety and efficiency of polar logistics.
  • Sampling Interplanetary Dust from Antarctic Air

    Abstract: We built a collector to filter interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) larger than 5 µm from the clean air at the Amundsen Scott South Pole station. Our sampling strategy used long duration, continuous dry filtering of near-surface air in place of short duration, high-speed impact collection on flags flown in the stratosphere. We filtered ~107 m3 of clean Antarctic air through 20 cm diameter, 3 µm filters coupled to a suction blower of modest power consumption (5–6 kW). Our collector ran continuously for 2 years and yielded 41 filters for analyses. Based on stratospheric concentrations, we predicted that each month’s collection would provide 300–900 IDPs for analysis. We identified 19 extraterrestrial (ET) particles on the 66 cm2 of filter examined, which represented ~0.5% of the exposed filter surfaces. The 11 ET particles larger than 5 µm yield about a fifth of the expected flux based on >5 µm stratospheric ET particle flux. Of the 19 ET particles identified, four were chondritic porous IDPs, seven were FeNiS beads, two were FeNi grains, and six were chondritic material with FeNiS components. Most were <10 µm in diameter and none were cluster particles. Additionally, a carbon-rich candidate particle was found to have a small 15N isotopic enrichment, supporting an ET origin. Many other candidate grains, including chondritic glasses and C-rich particles with Mg and Si and FeS grains, require further analysis to determine if they are ET. The vast majority of exposed filter surfaces remain to be examined.