Ice Ice Baby

With a stunning website more befitting a reality television show than a scientific expedition, the Vanco Arctic Survey is relying heavily on multimedia web technology to share its expedition with the public:

The Vanco Arctic Survey is a pioneering international scientific endeavour, likely to prove the most ambitious ever undertaken on the North Pole ice cap. The North Pole ice cap, which floats on the Arctic Ocean, is one of our planet’s defining features and is in peril, melting at an accelerating rate. The survey will capture, for the first time, detailed information about the thickness of the ice and snow and help to determine just how long the ice cap will exist in a climate-changing world.

The multimedia gallery can be found here. We particularly like this video (hosted on YouTube) of arctic wolves checking out the team as they drill for ice core samples, transmitted directly from the arctic:

So how does the team deliver their video, audio and images to a global audience? They use the Iridium low-earth orbit satellites for communications and video feeds. has the details:

Satellite coverage of both polar regions is limited to one service – the Iridium satellite network – and these low-orbit sats are designed for speech and low data rate communications, with a maximum data rate of only 2,400 bits per second.

To handle large quantities of data, the expedition will also be using six satellite modems in parallel to allow real-time webcam footage, which is compressed and combined with low frame rates.

The team will be using ‘sledges’ – large floatation devices containing the equipment – to transport the systems across the ice cap.

The onboard sledge computer uses a Linux-based system and consumes only two watts of electricity. Its main functions are to archive data, read data cards from the cameras and bio-data sources, handle compressed webcam images in real-time and feed data files to the six Iridium modems.

The expedition team will carry out tests to see how efficiently the system can transmit data back to the project’s headquarters at Watlington, near Oxford, UK.

The aim is to send back same-day footage which will enable the team’s progress to be followed.

Pen Hadow, who is leading the expedition, recently spoke at the launch of the first World Responsible Tourism Day, saying the day is of "colossal significance" to preserving the polar ice caps. 

To get a better idea of how limited satcom coverage is at the poles — and why — check out this cool flash visualization of orbiting satellites