Wind power brings energy to the world’s most frozen desert: Antarctica

Wind power brings energy to the world’s most frozen desert: Antarctica

Coated in glacial ice and averaging a high temperature of -76 degrees Fahrenheit in July, Antarctica remains the least inhabited continent on Earth. Here the Brazilian Criosfera 1 climate research station collects and transmits data under extreme conditions. During the five months of total winter darkness, the station is completely reliant on four small wind turbines.

Measuring climate patterns to help scientists understand pollution, climate change and weather in the region, Criosfera 1 is in the centrifuge of one of the windiest place on the planet, making it entirely dependent upon wind power for six months of the year. This reliable resource allows for continuous data monitoring and transmission, letting the site supervise itself—good news to scientists who don’t have to trek around sheets of ice.

Energia Pura, a Brazilian-based renewable energy installer, supplied four of Southwest Windpower’s AIR Breeze turbines to the Brazilian Antarctic Program (PROANTAR) on their research container. The module aims to monitor weather and study how South American pollution may influence the climate of the Southern Hemisphere.
Photo Credit: Marcelo Sampaio, INPE Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil-- Criosfera 1 with crew tends
The turbines were installed in late December 2011, monitored for about a month and then left with the research module for autonomous production, according to Dr. Marcelo Sampaio of the National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

The four turbines, one attached to the each corner of the 6.1-meter by 2.3-meter (about 20 feet by 7.4 feet) of the stunning red research module; bring color and kinetic motion to the vast white landscape of the Earth’s southernmost continent. Criosfera 1, which bears homage to the Brazilian flag and the countries kelly green and vibrant yellow striping, uses only wind and solar power resources to run atmospheric research and meteorological instrumentation. Wind power produces more in colder temperatures because the air is denser than in warmer conditions. Dense air increases power output.

Criosfera 1 collects and transmits data by means of the ARGOS satellite-based system, according to Sampaio. An ARGOS system gathers, processes and disseminates environmental data worldwide. It has the ability to geographically locate data from anywhere in the world.
Crunching the numbers
The Criosfera 1 uses 160 watts of wind energy (wind speeds of 12 m.s-1 ) from each of the four Southwest Windpower’s AIR Breeze turbines, said Sampaio. Some 175 watts of power is captured by each of the four solar panels that are side mounted on the module (1000 w.m-2 at 25 degrees Celsius). The power generators are used to charge an 8 kilowatt-hour (kWh) of AGM (absorbed glass mat) lead acid stationary battery unit. During the winter the battery set is able to maintain the system for up to four days if there is not adequate wind, according to the INPE.

“We are receiving the meteorological data by satellite link,” said Sampaio. “Our [equipment is] 1,900 watt-hours per day and the local wind average speed is 12 m.s-1 (almost the same in February, March, April and May). We are monitoring the current of turbines. The turbine energy generated [depends] from battery level and which of four turbines starts first. [At] maximum value, the data shows us 10.5 Amperes from (24 volt) turbine.”

Within the confines of the research container temperature and power generator currents are monitored, which are also sent to the satellite link. Installed meteorological instrumentation allows for monitoring of air temperature, wind speed and direction, relative humidity and atmospheric pressure. Additionally, according to Sampaio, it monitors carbon dioxide (CO2) atmospheric concentration and the continuous observation of snow deposition.

Geography and climate change

Antarctica is an unforgiving climate and covered by about 98 percent ice. It is the coldest, driest and windiest continent. No human being has ever permanently lived in the frozen desert; however, between 1,000 to 5,000 people come and throughout the ice covered 5.3 million square mile continent.

The Earth’s weather patterns are changing due factors which include oceanic processes, variations in solar radiation, the shifting of plate tectonics and volcanic eruptions among other factors. In attempt to scientifically study these changes the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) is gathering research studies to understand the occurring processes.
Photo Credit: Marcelo Arvalo, UMAG Punta Arenas, Chile-- Brazilian Crew, Criosfera 1 Official Opening Day (Jan. 12, 2012)
Uninterrupted atmospheric monitoring is a key-factor for a more solidified understanding recent climate changes in Antarctica, according to Sampaio. Many scientific stations that are dedicated to monitoring physical-chemical and meteorological parameters during both summer and winter seasons are located at the continental margin. The continental margin is the zone of the ocean floor that separates the thin oceanic crust from the thick continental crust. It is comprised of about 28 percent oceanic area; according to The Scientific and Legal Interface book Continental Shelf Limits.

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Photo credit: (right) Marcelo Sampaio, INPE Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil-- Criosfera 1 with crew tends (left) Marcelo Arevalo, UMAG Punta Arenas, Chile-- Brazilian Crew, Criosfera 1 Official Opening Day (Jan. 12, 2012)

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