Polar Programs

With the increased interest in the study of polar environments, the NSF SAGE Facility has developed capabilities that have allowed seismologists and glaciologists to acquire year-round seismic data from study areas that were previously out of reach. Over the past 10 years, NSF OPP has made a large investment in the expansion of these capabilities at the NSF SAGE Facility, operated by EarthScope Consortium. Through Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) awards for development and acquisition, and in collaboration with partner organizations, EarthScope Consortium has successfully designed and developed smaller, lighter, and more robust observatory platforms that have facilitated high rates of data return from experiments in the most remote and extreme parts of the Arctic and Antarctic.

The NSF SAGE Facility presently supports approximately 70 new portable experiments per year worldwide, with ~20% of these experiments focusing on polar regions. Polar projects commonly require an incremental level of support beyond the standard level provided to all portable experiments. Specialized polar support allows for developing cold-related engineering solutions, equipment fabrication and preparation for extreme conditions, and enhanced and extended field support. The Polar Support Services (PSS) staff focuses on:

  • Developing successful cold-station deployment strategies
  • Collaborating with vendors to develop and test cold-rated seismic and associated equipment
  • Integrating components into robust and complete field deployable systems
  • Maintaining a pool of cold-hardened seismic equipment components for use by the broad PI community
  • Building an engineering exchange for development and experiment support
  • Creating an open-resource repository for cold-station techniques and test data for seismologists and others in the polar science community

In just the past five years, typical data recovery rates from year-round, unattended observations have increased from < 50% to > 90%, largely due to the development of a winter data collecting capability. With data collection and scientific successes shown in the wide-ranging AGAP/GAMSEIS and POLENET/ANET International Polar Year experiments (located in East and West Antarctica, respectively), there is growing interest in expanding such projects and in generally enhancing sustained observations near Earth’s poles, including observations of changing glacial systems.

The NSF SAGE Facility's founding principles are not only related to the collection and distribution of seismological data, but also to the education of the seismological community. As we improve our capabilities in polar regions, we can offer education and engineering support to national and international colleagues in successful deployments of polar seismological and other experiments. The NSF SAGE Facility currently provides resources in the form of online documentation and consultation to other science disciplines such as climatology, glaciology, and physics. In addition, the NSF SAGE Facility sees the need to be proactive in sharing information with the broader scientific community. In 2010, EarthScope Consortium (then IRIS) facilitated an NSF OPP-funded workshop on autonomous polar observing systems (APOS; Wiens et al., 2011) that brought together members of a broad scientific community to advance more robust remote autonomous observations across a variety of field (e.g., seismology, geodesy, geomag- netics, atmospherics, space physics,). EarthScope Consortium advances remote autonomous station design for polar environments and have shared success stories and best practices during interchange with groups from other disciplines in targeted technical meetings such as the annual Polar Technology Conference as well as through major scientific meetings.

With sustained core support, the NSF SAGE Facility PSS will be able to continue incremental development efforts for improved cold region systems as part of ongoing field support.