MOON REGAN TRANSANTARCTIC EXPEDITION

Winston Wong | Imperial College London


IMPERIAL COLLEGE SCIENCE

The Moon Regan Expedition team are committed to using their time in Antarctica to facilitate the work of Imperial College London, who are leading the world’s thinking on bio-inspired technology.

As scientific partner to the expedition, the College will be sending a number of monitoring and measuring devices to gather data for a number of research areas:

THE SCIENCE OF THE EXPEDITION

As the scientific partner of the Moon-Regan Transantarctic Expedition, Imperial College, with the generous sponsorship of Professor Winston Wong, will be performing a number of experiments over the duration of the journey. These experiments have been designed to provide information on the physiology of the team, the performance of the vehicles and a study of the natural environment. The land-based nature of this Expedition presents a rare opportunity for the scientists and engineers to take continuous measurements using sensitive equipment as the vehicles progress deep into the continent.

Physiology

The expedition will be trialling a ground-breaking health monitoring device to investigate the effect of extreme Antarctic conditions on the human body. The Life Platform, by Sensium TM technology (invented by Professor Chris Toumazou of Imperial College London) collects and locally processes vital sign information, including motion, heart rate and single lead ECG using standard gel or fabric electrodes positioned across the chest. This information is then transmitted wirelessly in real-time to a nearby receiving computer for review, analysis and storage.

This technology emerged from the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, Imperial College London, and is now being developed for healthcare applications by spinout company, Toumaz UK Ltd.
This enabling technology is set to revolutionise healthcare monitoring, allowing for non-intrusive, ultra-low power, continuous and remote vital sign monitoring with applications in both hospital as well as non-clinical settings. The continuity of monitoring provided by this technology will transform the management of healthcare and resources to ensure best practice is met in all application areas.

Team members will have their vital signs and physiology monitored in a variety of scenarios prior to, during, and after the 7 weeks on the ice. In addition, records of dietary intake, physical activity, sleep patterns, perceived exertion and psychometric assessments will be collected periodically throughout the Expedition. This information, complemented with high resolution vital sign data, will allow the effect of prolonged exposure to low temperatures and the body’s capacity for adaptation, to be more fully understood whilst demonstrating the capabilities of this new low power wireless healthcare technology.

Vehicle Performance

Land-based crossings of the whole Antarctic continent have only been achieved twice. Both expeditions took many months due to the cumbersome nature of the tracked vehicles used and the uniquely-challenging terrain.

The Moon Regan Transantarctic Expedition hopes to demonstrate that wheel-based land vehicles are the best option for long distance travel over frozen terrain. The Expedition will use two specially converted Ford Econolines, the Science Support Vehicles (SSVs), to transport the team and equipment. In addition, the lightweight Winston Wong Bio-Inspired Ice Vehicle (BIV) will to be used as an agile route-finder. A successful crossing is likely to be the fastest recorded land-traverse of the continent, and the first expedition to complete the traverse in both directions. The Winston Wong Bio-Inspired Ice Vehicle will be the first biofuelled vehicle to attempt to reach the South Pole. One of the key aims of the Expedition is a general assessment of the viability of biofuels as well as specific testing of the properties of Earthly Energy’s kerosene replacement biofuel.

To quantify the performance of the SSVs and BIV while in Antarctica, continuous measurements will be taken of their emissions, fuel burn and shock loading. Initial calculations show these vehicles to be the most fuel-efficient way of conducting long scientific experiments in central Antarctica. The carbon footprint of the expedition will be further reduced by running the BIV on E85 bio-ethanol and ensuring all the scientific equipment is powered by solar energy.

The performance and suitability of bio-ethanol for regular use in Antarctica will be carefully monitored. The cold temperatures and low humidity suggest the water-absorption problems associated with storing biofuel in more humid climes can potentially be avoided in Antarctica. Therefore bio-ethanol could be a very suitable low-pollution fuel for use in Antarctic travel. To study this, samples of the fuel will be taken throughout the 7-week journey and stored for analysis of water content on return. These results will be compared to control specimens stored at known temperature and humidity over the same period in the laboratories of Imperial College London.

The precise route of the vehicles will be tracked using sophisticated GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) hardware. When the vehicles are stationary, this same equipment will be used to survey the number and position of satellites over the continent, and then track their progress over a 24-hour period. When the vehicles are at a precisely known location (such as the South Pole) this information, with ultra-precise satellite clock information, may explain the errors and biases of GNSS signals caused by atmospheric refraction. This data will be useful for designers of ever more accurate navigation systems.

Natural Environment

As the world’s largest wilderness, Antarctica provides an opportunity to study the natural environment without the influence of human settlement. This untouched landscape has a range of natural geological features and environmental processes that offer a perfect setting for carefully planned scientific experiments.

The Antarctic continent is vast with a network of small research stations. The Moon Regan Transantarctic Expedition offers an unprecedented opportunity to carry out mobile experiments across Antarctica and allow multiple measurements be taken along a 3,600 mile route

The Expedition team has devised several key studies to investigate the unique features and climate in this region.

Atmosphere

Measurements of incoming and reflected solar radiation. These will be taken to study the snow and ice albedo, energy absorption patterns and the ozone layer. The data will span three spectral bands; ultraviolet, visible and infra-red, allowing correlations between them to be deduced. The team will measure trace pollutant concentrations in the atmosphere using a sophisticated ultraviolet spectrometer. These results will enable scientists to better understand the link between solar radiation, atmospheric pollution and ionosphere activity as measured by the high sensitivity GNSS receiver.

Atmospheric turbulence measurements. The way in which air behaves as it travels along a solid surface is fundamental to the understanding of drag. Drag is directly linked to the fuel burn of almost every common transportation vehicle. The large, flat, open spaces of Antarctica allow experiments usually only performed in a wind tunnel to be conducted on a much larger scale, providing measurements much closer to those experienced by aircraft in flight. An array of wind sensing equipment will be used to measure the intricate motions of the air, to answer questions on the origins and development of turbulence.

Topography

Surface ice structure and integrity. A ground-penetrating radar will be used by the expedition to study the surface integrity of the ground in front of the vehicle convoy. This data, when used in conjunction with GPS spatial and temporal tagging, provides a detailed survey of the size, depth and scale of the crevasse fields over the route.

Meteorite and Cosmic Dust

Meteorite collection. The large, white, undeveloped expanses of Antarctica make it a prime location for collecting small, black meteorites. These rocks, often older than the Earth itself, strike the glaciers of Antarctica and re-emerge thousands of years later as the glacier motions push them back to the surface. As the Expedition progresses, any meteorites spotted en-route will be collected in sterile containers, labelled with the precise location and then stored for analysis back at Imperial College London (where they will be curated and made available widely worldwide to future scientific research programs). The chemical composition of meteorites contributes to scientists’ understanding of the origins of the universe.

Snow Surface Chemistry

Pollutant trace metal analysis. Snow samples will be collected over the course of the expedition and kept for analysis of trace metal concentrations and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). The concentrations and distribution of trace minerals offer valuable data on the spread of pollutants throughout the global ecosystem, the natural geological processes of Antarctica and the effect of human activity on the continent. Both trace metals and POPs can be used as markers to show the circulation of pollutants within the Southern hemisphere.

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