Airborne Geophysics

West Antarctica

Lat. 80°0'0"S, Long. 90°0'0"W

The British Antarctic Survey has a Twin Otter aircraft with a certified fit of airborne geophysics instrumentation.

The Twin Otter aircraft is a very adaptable platform used the world over as a ‘bush’ aircraft. Its twin turbo-prop engines and ‘Short Take off and Landing’ (STOL) capability allow it to be operated from small, remote unpaved airfields. The addition of skis or tundra tyres also allows operation on snow and from remote camps.

The aircraft can be operated single pilot and a long range fuel tank is also available. Double cargo doors provide good access for installing instrument racks.

In general the aircraft works in the Antarctic from October through to March each year. Outside the Antarctic season the aircraft is available in the Northern hemisphere.

The instrument suite includes ice penetrating radar, gravimeter, magnetometers and laser scanner. The systems are all synchronised by a distributed GPS NMEA and 1pps signal. Real time data is reviewed and the systems controlled from a central command console or via tablet computer. The survey network system lets multiple operators view and use the equipment installed on the aircraft, though normally standard missions are flown by one pilot and one operator.

Installations are flexible allowing for tailored missions for gravity, radar, magnetics or hyperspectral missions or any combinations of the systems. Hard points in the wings allow for mounting of 8 radar antenna and instrumentation. Pods can be fitted at the wing tips for the magnetometer installation.

The floor hatch opening can accommodate a laser range finder or scanning laser which can be used for measuring ice floe topography and ice surface. The required GPS and attitude measurements to support this are available from a Leica and Novatel based with built in system redundancy. A digital SLR camera can also be fitted to provide visual references for the data sets. A hyperspectral suite of imaging equipment can be utilised in the camera bay for a wide range of survey applications such as geology or vegetation studies. The camera bay can also be utilised to drop airborne deployable sensors and towed sensor arrays such as low frequency radars.

Technical information

BAS Twin Otter Aircraft in flight over the Antarctic Peninsula

Aerogravity system

BAS has developed an aerogravity system that can be mounted in one of its aircraft. The system has been used to collect over 100,000 km of data since it was …

A BAS Twin Otter aircraft over Alexander Island

Polarimetric Radar

The radar system is composed of a complex waveform generator, signal processor, data handler and data store. It includes a high power transmitter (up to 66dBm or 4kW), a low …

ANTARCTIC BLOG: Science from the air #5

26 January, 2016 by Tom Jordan

Wrapping up I have started several of my blog posts saying I am writing in various odd/unusual/uncomfortable locations…the back of a Twin Otter, or in a mountain tent high on …

PRESS RELEASE: New season – ambitious science

23 November, 2015

New season tackles ambitious science and logistical challenges The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) 2015/16 field season is underway with dozens of scientists and support staff – together with planes and tonnes …

NEWS STORY: Mountains frozen in time

19 November, 2014

Antarctic “ghost mountains” preserved by ice sheet A new study reveals how the rugged ridgelines of East Antarctica’s ancient and mysterious ‘ghost mountains’ have been preserved for millions of years …

NEWS STORY: Airborne geophysics in the Antarctic

27 January, 2014

In this month’s International Innovation journal Dr Fausto Ferraccioli discusses how airborne geophysics can be used to uncover the geology of Antarctica and explore some of the Earth’s final frontiers. …

PRESS RELEASE: Buried mountain range mapped

16 November, 2011

Gamburtsev Mountains enigma unraveled in interior East Antarctica The birth of the Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains buried beneath the vast East Antarctic Ice Sheet — a puzzle mystifying scientists since their …

PRESS RELEASE: New discovery from “ghost mountains”

3 March, 2011

Ice structures found among hidden Antarctic mountains The discovery of numerous large ice structures within Antarctica’s Dome A region, the site of the buried ‘ghost mountains’, reveals new understanding about …

PRESS RELEASE: Mission to buried mountain range

13 October, 2008

Challenge to discover Antarctica”s hidden world Later this month teams of scientists, engineers, pilots and support staff from British Antarctic Survey (BAS), USA, Germany, Australia, China and Japan will join …


An international project called GOCE+Antarctica- Dynamic Antarctic Lithosphere supported by the European Space Agency (ESA) was launched in late January 2016 as part of its Support to Science program. This …


The polar regions have the capacity to amaze and astound, but despite the considerable progress of recent decades we still know far less about them than less remote parts of …