Press Release

40 Days of Ice: Burchfield Travels to Arctic for a Cold SODA

Thu, 12/05/2019 - 16:00

There’s a chill in the air as the young scientist walks onto the deck of a ship and surveys the scene. He grins broadly as he watches ice floes come into view and relishes the moment. This unique monthlong mission to the Arctic, where not many people have tread, marks a milestone in his career.

In August, Zachary Burchfield represented Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in the Office of Naval Research’s Stratified Ocean Dynamics of the Arctic (SODA) initiative. Burchfield took part in a 42-day excursion aboard the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy to the northern region.

His goal was twofold: to use propagation characterization equipment (such as weather balloons, drones and transponders) and space exploration instrumentation (like antennas) to capture data.

“As the region opens, areas of opportunities could develop, and we want to ensure the equipment we use will function in this new environment,” Burchfield explained.

The Healy is the nation’s largest and most technologically advanced icebreaker, and it functions as a science vessel in addition to other roles. Burchfield posted the longest data-collection “tour” in his group’s history by surpassing the 35-day effort last year by David Drzewiecki, who collected similar data but without drone profiles.

The drones were key to Burchfield’s mission — and they also presented the first challenge he had to tackle.

“Our new prototype meteorological unmanned air systems (Met UAS) were custom built within one month and shipped the week before my departure,” said Burchfield, an electrical engineer. “But due to the time constraints, they had not been tuned and calibrated, which could cause them to become unstable in flight.”