Airborne Geophysics, Antarctica

Lat. 90°0'0"S, Long. 0°0'0"E

Expertise and capability

The British Antarctic Survey operates a Twin Otter aircraft with a certified fit of airborne geophysics instrumentation that support our programme of sustained observations.

The instruments

An airborne geophysical capability is deployed on low-cost piloted and autonomous aircraft. This instrument suite includes gravimeter, magnetometers and ice-penetrating radar, which can be flown with LIDAR in support.  The suite has been widely employed on NERC and other grants.

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.

Airborne platform

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.

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


View the BAS Polar Airborne Geophysics Data Portal to access datasets and metadata. Individual datasets can also be accessed from the Project pages.


BAS Twin Otter Aircraft in flight over the Antarctic Peninsula

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