Space Weather Monitoring on the Antarctic Plateau 2013

What Are They Doing?

Automatic Geophysical Observatories (AGOs)Automatic Geophysical Observatories (AGOs) The purpose of the project was to monitor "space weather." Space weather encompasses phenomena that take place a few hundred miles above the surface of the Earth. This includes the ionosphere, the magnetic fields of the Earth and Sun, the northern and southern lights, and the solar wind. A high-latitude location (either north or south polar regions) is ideal for such monitoring because in these regions the field lines of the Earth's magnetic field become almost perpendicular to the Earth.

To do this, scientists created Automatic Geophysical Observatories (AGOs) that are active at five locations established across the Antarctic Plateau that house nearly identical instruments measuring atmospheric weather conditions. During their stay, the team made sure all of the different instruments were working properly and collecting reliable data. Supporting these observatories is crucial to the study of interactions between the magnetic fields of the Sun and of the Earth. Learning more can help us understand the potential disturbances in these fields that can disrupt radio communications or our power systems, and even take out satellites that orbit close to Earth.

Where Are They?

AGO Site in AntarcticaAGO Site in Antarctica The team first flew to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica – the southernmost continually inhabited place on the planet. They then flew on to remote field observatories on the Antarctic Plateau using a small fixed-wing aircraft. They made a landing on an unprepared snow surface and set up camp for several weeks. They had to deal with seasonal temperatures of approximately -20 F and worked at an altitude of close to 11,000 ft!


Mount Erebus - We had some clear sky on my way home leaving Antarctica for Christchurch, New Zealand. One the two most active volcanoes on the Planet! I just wanted to let everyone know that I completed my journey back to Northwestern Pennsylvania and arrived home in time to enjoy the Holidays with family and friends. I'm not sure if it's possible to spend time in Antarctica without being in awe and without becoming a bit connected to such a place that challenges you in so many different ways. This is the Airbus A380 ... a new double-decker airplane that can hold 525 passengers. If it'...
You ever wonder what happens to someone who gets sick at South Pole Station ... one of the most remote places on the Planet? Well the visit Dr. Sean Roden M.D. and the what ends up being a rather well equipped mini-hospital. Check it out!
I've been on what can only be described as an incredible journey … the field camp of AGO 2. Bob Melville - AGO Team Leader, Andy Stillinger - Project Engineer, Gil Jeffer - Research Scientist, Marc Ankenbauer - Field Coordinator, and I spent eight days on the East Antarctic Plateau … 300 miles from anything and anyone. Living in such close quarters you not only learn a lot from each other, you learn a lot about each other. And one thing I learned is that I wouldn't hesitate for a minute to work with any of them again. Regardless of whether or not things were going according to plan, the...
On my way to the AGO 2 site I thought about my recent time at South Pole Station. As I mentioned earlier when I arrived at South Pole Station it was a challenge for me physically. Hitting the thin cold air was like having 75 pounds placed on my shoulders. South Pole Station is 9603 feet above sea level, and that's where I came from … sea level at McMurdo Station. However you must also factor in the Earth's atmosphere is thinnest at the poles and thickest near the equator, so in reality (depending on what kind of weather is coming in and the barometric pressure associated with it) South...
As is typical at the edge of the planet, things change quickly. Yesterday afternoon my team got word that our flight to the field has was bumped up to the morning. had hoped for a couple more days to prep at South Pole Station before heading out, but around here you have to go when they say go. I fly out in 2 hours for the field site at AGO #2, and will be there 5 or 6 days. I will have access to the SAT phone but will not have internet access from the field. Keep the questions coming and I will answer them as quickly as possible, and keep an eye out for the Polar Connect Event. Details...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

12 November 2012 to 22 December 2012
Location: South Pole Station and remote field sites on the Antarctic Plateau, Antarctica
Project Funded Title: The Polar Experiment Network for Geospace Upper atmosphere Investigations project (PENGUIn)

Meet the Team

Tim Spuck's picture
Oil City Area High School
Oil City, PA
United States

Tim Spuck teaches Earth & Space Sciences at Oil City Area Sr. High School in Oil City, PA, and has served as the District’s K-12 Science Department Chair. Recently he completed an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship with the National Science Foundation’s Division of Graduate Education's GK-12 STEM Fellows Program. Over the years he has also taught courses at the undergraduate level, lead many teacher training programs throughout the US and abroad, and is currently pursuing his D. Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction at West Virginia University. For the past 20 years Tim has worked to engage his students in authentic science research, and those students have been recognized throughout the scientific community for their discoveries and contributions to astronomy. Tim’s contributions in education have been recognized through numerous awards including the Einstein Fellowship, American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics Educator Achievement Award, Tandy Technology Scholars Award, the Pennsylvania Christa McAuliffe Fellowship, and the Kevin Burns Outstanding Science Teacher Award. Although his primary focus over the past 20 years has been astronomy education and the development and support of partnerships between STEM researchers and educators, he maintains a strong interest in a wide variety of STEM areas.

Robert Melville's picture
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Newark, NJ
United States

Bob Melville did his undergraduate training at the University of Delaware and went on to finish a Ph.D. in Engineering at Cornell. He worked at Bell Labs and then taught electrical engineering at Columbia University before joining the United States Antarctic Program in 2004. He is currently employed by the New Jersey Institute of Technology as a staff engineer to support geophysical research in Antarctica. Bob was a member of the 2005-2006 winter-over crew at the South Pole. He is also an extra-class amateur radio operator WB3EFT.

Andrew Gerrard's picture
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Newark, NJ
United States

Andrew Gerrard is a Professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and Deputy Director of the Center for Solar-Terrestrial Research. He received his BS in physics from the State University of New York at Geneseo in 1996 and his MS and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from The Pennsylvania State University in 1998 and 2002, respectively. His current research interests include remote sensing of the middle and upper atmosphere, atmospheric and magnetospheric dynamics, and synoptic observations of coupled systems.

Andrew Stillinger's picture
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Newark, NJ
United States

Andy Stillinger is currently employed as a staff engineer for NJIT in support of geophysical research in Antarctica. Andy has done two tours with the USAP working on the Automatic Geophysical Observatories and will return to the Ice for 2011-2012 season.

Alan Weatherwax's picture
Siena College
Loudonville, NY
United States

Professor Weatherwax is an internationally recognized authority on the interaction of planetary and terrestrial radio emissions, both natural and man-made, with space environment. At present, and together with his research team of students and engineers, he directs optical, radio, and magnetic experiments in Antarctica, Canada, and Greenland. The Weatherwax Glacier in Antarctica is named in his honor to recognize his research efforts on that continent.