Ice Drift Beacons | Canatec

By: Canatec Associates International  09-12-2011
Keywords: Ice, satellite, Records Data


Satellite telemetered, GPS position beacon for measuring short or long term drift of sea-ice in remote polar areas with extremely low temperatures.


Satellite Telemetry: GPS fixes received and transmitted via Iridium satellites. Messaging latency through Iridium less than 15 seconds. 

Sensors: GPS latitude/longitude measurements standard. Can be equipped with air pressure and temperature sensors.

Sampling Rate: Standard is every 2 hours or every 15 minutes. Can be set differently on order.

Accuracy: GPS position accuracy 2.5 m Circular Error Probable (CEP). Barometric pressure accuracy is +/- 0.3 hPa; temperature accuracy +/- 0.1°C.

Temperature: Each beacon individually tested to operate down to -40 °C.  Records data while temperatures go lower and transmits when beacon warms up. Accuracy of position fix declines somewhat, below -35°C.

Power Supply

Batteries: Lithium Iron non-rechargeable batteries for standard beacon. Lithium thionyl chloride hazardous batteries are needed to meet the greatly increased power requirements in high-frequency, long life reporting beacons.

Life Span: Beacons can be designed to operate for up to 2 years in polar conditions at 2 hour sampling rate. Higher sampling rates can be configured but require a larger battery pack to achieve the desired operating life span.


Air-drop: Cyindrical package is dropped from helicopter or fixed wing unpressurized aircraft, at 155 m. Parachute deploys automatically and separates upon landing. Drop accuracy about 30 m radius in light cross wind conditions, down to 8 m with no wind. Beacon communicates in any landing orientation.

Hand-Placed: Can be dropped from ship or helicopter from up to 6 m height, or placed by hand directly on ice.

In-Ice: Cylindrical package designed to be buried part way into ice to keep batteries warmer and extend operating life. Needs 8” hand auger to make hole in ice.

Ice/Snow/Water Operation

Transmits under 1m dry snow cover, 5 cm water saturated snow cover. Made to float or sink according to user request. Arctic beacons are white, to avoid differential melting of nearby ice. Can be supplied in highly visible colours if used for short duration on ice and need to be recovered.


Standard air-dropped beacon is a cylinder of ABS copolymer; weight 5.3 kg; size 65 cm long x 20 cm diameter.

High frequency reporting air-drop beacon is ABS plastic cylinder 94 cm long x 17 cm diameter, 13 kg weight. Weight is variable depending on size of battery pack which is a function of reporting/sampling rate.

Both of above beacon canisters can be supplied in slightly different lengths for embedding in ice. Hand-placed version is waterproof plastic case with handle.

Airworthy-Certified Deployment

Canatec can drop the standard canister beacon from Twin Otter aircraft using our proprietary US and Canadian government airworthy-certified deployment system. This can be extended to Danish certification for Greenland operation if desired by customer.

Deployment from other non-pressurized aircraft, both fixed wing and rotary, can be done by opening a door with the aircrew member strapped in.

Track Display and Data Acquisition

Option 1. Use Canatec’s data web system. Canatec backs up the raw signals and stores them in a confidential site. Decoded data are placed on Canatec’s website, where clients have pass-word-protected access to their own beacons. Beacon positions and tracks are displayed on interactive maps. Full records of all data may be down-loaded in text file format as shown below.  

        time           date                lat                       lon                     pres          temp           sat  

             (UTC)          (cal)              (deg)                   (deg)                 (mbar)       (°C)        (number)

12:20:06    21/03/10      71.939615       – 137.292332          1036.1       -27.8             9

14:21:26    21/03/10      71.934802       - 137.303992          1035.6       -27.3             8

16:20:26    21/03/10      71.929455       – 137.315233          1035.6       -26.9            10

18:21:06    21/03/10      71.921907       – 137.327685          1035.3       -25.4             11


Option 2. Receive raw beacon data e-mailed directly from Iridium provider. Messages can use 256 bit AES encryption. Clients with in-house programming and data analysis teams may prefer this.

Capture and Analysis of Data

Tools: Standard analytical graphs are automatically created on the website by choosing the data stream.

Options: Users may wish to use custom map or satellite image overlays on the maps. Canatec can provide customized analysis of data and advice on deployment patterns.

Track Record

These state of the art instruments have been tested in cold chambers, mountain tops, Antarctica, on land in Canada’s Northwest Territories, in the Beaufort Sea, offshore NE Greenland and Svalbard. 



Canatec Associates International Ltd.

A global leader in sea ice studies and operations with 30 years personnel experience around the world. We support operations 24/7 of vessels and platforms in ice, with integrated teams of ice observers, ice pilots and satellite image analysts. We have software for statistical analysis of sea ice occurrence and drift forecasting. Canatec trains Ice Advisors for ships and platforms.

Keywords: Ice, Records Data, satellite,

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