Ice Melt Management - Wilkins Aerodrome - Case Study
The Wilkins Aerodrome is perhaps Australia’s most unusual aerodrome, located approximately 70 km southeast of Casey Station in Antarctic Australian territory. The Australian single runway has served as the Antarctic terminal for intercontinental air service since 2007 and it operates between the months of October and March.
The aerodrome’s location was chosen to minimize the likelihood of melt, the runway is constructed on glacial ice, 500m thick—and not only shifts approximately 12 meters a year to the southwest, but in recent years has gone through melt phases. Unlike other cold climate runways, Wilkins lacks the magnitude of suitable snow or features that could be leveraged to improve traction and minimize melt.
Because of the dynamic nature of the runway, tests must be conducted prior to any aircraft use, to ensure that the required structural and friction parameters are met. Additionally, planes are only able to land on the runway when the ice temperature is -5C, or lower (the mean temperature is -14C).
Scientists and workers rely on the functionality of the runway for travel to and from the frozen continent and some critical supplies are also transported through this facility. Naturally, having a high level of confidence in ice temperature data is pivotal to ensuring the safe operation of a facility like this.
The aerodrome operators contacted BeadedStream because they were looking for a more efficient way to monitor ice temperatures along the runway. At the time, they were manually taking temperatures with analog sensors and at some locations they used a simple data logger. These efforts required a lot of time and only provided data snapshots as opposed to continuous, more comprehensive data, over time.
In the summer of 2010, BeadedStream TACs were installed along the 3,600 m runway at approximately 6 locations, running vertically into the ice. Two different configurations of cables were used to measure temperatures near the surface at one meter or 1.5 meters deep. The cables were paired with data loggers, which were then installed into custom-built boxes along the runway.
Resulting temperatures are now recorded automatically and the installations enable staff to more easily download and analyze data. With a continuous data set, they are starting to understand the temperature fluctuations of the runway, across days and nights, weeks and months. The facilities managers are able to make more informed and timely decisions based on temperature and surface conditions combined.
The Wilkens Aerodrome is a single runway aerodrome operated by Australia, located on upper Peterson Glacier, Budd Coast, Wilkes Land on the continent of Antarctica, but 40 km (25mi) southeast of the actual coast.