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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 November 2007, 01:53 GMT
Ice expedition tests 'successful'
By Rebecca Morelle
Science reporter, BBC News

Pen Hadow pulling sledge  (Martin Hartley)
Images and footage transmitted from the Arctic circle

First tests on equipment that will provide key data on the current state of Arctic ice have been successful.

In 2008, explorer Pen Hadow will trek 2,000km across the North Pole, dragging a radar that will probe the thickness of the ever-shrinking ice-cap.

In advance of the expedition, the team headed to Eureka, north Canada, to test whether the instruments could perform in the tough Arctic conditions.

Mr Hadow said that the team's "planning and hard work had paid off".

The radar, known as Sprite, was able to make accurate ice measurements in temperatures of -35C, the team said.

The onboard communications equipment was able to successfully relay data - including the still images and video seen on this page - making it one of the most northerly transmissions of high-speed data.

The Vanco Arctic Survey will begin in February next year; Pen Hadow and two team members will spend more than 100 days trekking from Point Barrow in Alaska to the geographic North Pole.

Map of the Pen Hadow's route

As they travel across the icy terrain, they will be towing a radar that will probe ice thickness every few centimetres; communications equipment onboard the sledge will relay the readings back to the UK base-camp.

The radar measurements, the team hopes, should help to fill in the gaps from satellite and submarine data and enable scientists to accurately predict how long it will be before the Arctic experiences ice-free summers.

Michael Gorman, a Cambridge-based scientist who built the expedition's radar, said it was crucial to test it before the expedition took place, not only because the radar would be key to the expedition but also because it was a prototype design.

Vanco Survey Team drilling ice cores (Martin Hartley)

Usually, the scientist explained, ground penetrating radars were large and could weigh up to 100kg, making them impossible for a team to drag across the Arctic.

He said: "The challenge as I saw it was to create a radar that was high performance but was also extremely easy to use, so the team could switch it on and forget it."

The result is the small 4kg Sprite radar.

During the trials in Eureka, the radar was dragged behind the sledge on a four-hour round trip and its readings were compared with those taken from drilled ice cores.

Mr Hadow said: "When we started processing the data from the Sprite last week, we could see that it was of unprecedented accuracy and detail.

"After two years of development, it was a moment of real excitement - and, of course, relief."

Wolf encounter

The team also tested their communications equipment while at the research base in Canada.

Arctic wolf (Martin Hartley)

Pen Hadow told the BBC News website: "The guts of our onboard communication system is what we call Viper.

"It receives all of the different data streams pouring out from across the expedition as we travel across the ice cap: biomonitoring data, radar data, images from cameras and video footage.

"Basically, it slices and dices large volumes of data into small packets then sends them down six different lines at the same time. Then it reassembles them at the other end, back at base camp."

The trials of the computer's "uplink" were extremely successful, the team said, standing up to the region's extreme temperatures.

They were able to send the images and footage used on this page, including a video of their close encounter with a pack of Arctic wolves.

The next stage, said Mr Hadow, would be to further refine the radar and on-board sledge computer.

These developments will be tested during the final ice trials in January 2008.

Infographic (Image: BBC)



SEE ALSO
Explorers' quest for key ice data
16 Oct 07 |  Science/Nature
In pictures: Pen Hadow's polar trek
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Ice withdrawal 'shatters record'
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14 Sep 07 |  Americas
Arctic sea ice 'faces rapid melt'
12 Dec 06 |  Science/Nature
Go-ahead for Europe ice mission
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