Uncrewed aerial vehicle with onboard winch system for rapid, cost-effective, and safe oceanographic profiling in hazardous and inaccessible areas.
Interactions between coastal waters and marine-terminating glaciers in the Polar Regions play a significant role in global sea level rise fueled by a rapidly warming Arctic. However, few oceanographic measurements exist near glacier termini and in inner fjord systems with severe ice mélange. We present a cost-efficient (€ 5700) uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) with an on-board autonomous winch system that allows oceanographic profiling in remote, hazardous areas using a commercial conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) sensor payload. The UAV is based on a commercial kit helicopter, allowing for high-speed and efficient cruise flight along with easy logistical handling and deployment. An open-source autopilot system is used to provide pilot assistance and autonomous flight capabilities. The total takeoff weight of the UAV including payload is 6.5 kg with a hover endurance of 24 minutes and a range of 6 km. Testing of the system was conducted in South Greenland during winter conditions in March 2023 with successful profiles collected very near a glacier termini (<5 m) and in small openings in ice mélange (2.2 m). The system proved highly capable, reliable, and efficient. Further development of the system will allow other types of sensors for an even more flexible measurement suite.