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Uncrewed aerial vehicle with onboard winch system for rapid, cost-effective, and safe oceanographic profiling in hazardous and inaccessible areas

New publication by Ebbe Poulsen, Søren Rysgaard, Karina Hansen, Nanna B. Karlsson


Interactions between coastal waters and marine-terminating glaciers in the Polar Regions play a significant role in global sea level rise fueled by a rapidly warming Arctic. The risk of glacier calving, and the abundance of ice, can make it impossible for surface vessels to access the waters near glacier termini. Alternative methods using manned aircraft are expensive. As a result, oceanographic measurements are limited near glacier termini.We present an uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) with an on-board winch system that allows oceanographic profiling in remote, hazardous areas using a commercial conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) sensor payload. The UAV is optimized for easy handling and deployment and is capable of high-speed and efficient cruise flight. An autopilot system provides pilot assistance and autonomous flight capabilities. The total weight of the UAV including payload is 6.5 kg with an endurance of 24 min.Testing of the system was conducted in South Greenland during winter conditions in March 2023 with successful profiles collected near a glacier terminus (<5 m) and in small openings in ice mélange (2.2 m). The system proved capable, reliable, and efficient. Further development of the system will allow other sensors for an even more flexible measurement suite.