About AWS, PCWS & My Involvement

Madison College (MATC) and the Robotics Club

As an undergrad in my 2-year EET program at Madison College (formerly Madison Area Technical College), I worked in the Electronics Department as a Student Help. I helped organize labs for professors, participated in department events such as Outreach, and inventoried electrical components as I progressed through school. Eventually a few friends and I re-started the college’s Robotics Club and participated in the WITC Robotics Competition. Honestly, we got crushed as our robotics steering system couldn’t drive straight, the drive motors were way too powerful, and we ran into a problem with Arduino’s IDE overlapping timers which caused issues compiling the code operating the robot. Even so, the experience I gained from programming the robot was very valuable and a contributing factor to my interest in embedded software & hardware systems.

Intro to PCWS

My work in the “Development of a Modern Polar Climate and Weather Automated Observing System (PCWS)” grant began during my graduating semester. I was first hired on as a student hourly with the job of programming sensors. It was a steep learning curve as the level of programming went much lower (programming lower) than Arduino’s native language. I learned to use Atmel Studio with an Atmel ICE interface to program & debug micro-controllers. I started to understand how analog and frequency sensor measurements are taken, as well as basic serial communications. As things started to become more complex, Andy Kurth, a grant Principal Investigator and former professor of mine, was super supportive of my work and helped me get through tons of code & troubleshooting until I could program nearly independently. After making significant progress in software development I was hired as a Laboratory Assistant casual employee for Madison College under the PCWS grant.

Early Testing & Board Rev 1.0

Rev 2.0

Involvement in AWS

Now fast forward a couple board revisions and tons of software development later. As of November 11th, 2019, I have been sent to Antarctica to finalize this revisions software of the PCWS datalogger, install our dataloggers in five locations, and aid in the maintenance & deployment of many AWS weather stations for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I will be mostly working out of McMurdo Station to service locations near the Ross Island Ice shelf, however I could potentially spend two weeks working out of the West Antarctica Ice Shelf Divide (WAIS Divide) for access to more remote tower locations. During my 8-week mission, I could potentially visit 20 locations if everything goes as planned:

Alexander Tall Tower
Bear Island (Peninsula)
Cape Hallett
Marble Point I/II
Minna Bluff
Thurston Island
White Island
Willie Field
Windless Bight

Raise New Tower
New Instruments / Raise
PCWS Install
Raise New Tower
Raise Tower, Replace Power System
Raise New Tower
PCWS Install, Replace Top Tower Section
Fix Communications
PCWS Install
PCWS Install
Electrical Maintenance
PCWS Install

These are the stations on the roster for this season. Some of these locations, such as Pheonix, are easy to access. Pheonix is within driving distance to McMurdo and does not require any aerial support. Others, such as WAIS Divide, are in remote regions over 1000 miles west of McMurdo. We would be flying an LC-130 from McMurdo to WAIS, then riding snowmobiles to the tower. Other locations, such as Cape Hallett or Margaret, are hundreds of miles away. These locations require fixed wing aircraft or helicopters to visit. With highly variable Antarctic weather conditions, flying can be a daily coin toss. Most Antarctic weather prediction is based on satellite imagery with some weather station data integration – So even though the forecast from this information can look good enough for flying, it’s up to the pilot to make the determination to land or turn around on-site. 

To some key people within the project, and to others who have made a big influence in my interest in this project and in engineering:

Thank you

Matthew Lazzara – PCWS Lead Grant Principal Investigator
Andy Kurth – PCWS Co-Investigator & Analog Techniques Professor
Forbes Filip – PCWS Laboratory Assistant, Hardware development
Amy Limberg-Dzekute – Lead Lab Coordinator in Physical Sciences
Lee Wellhouse – UW-Madison AWS Grant Principal Investigator
Alberto Rodriguez – PCWS Co-Principal Investigator, Embedded Programming & Microcontrollers Professor
Jacob Eapen – Networking & Interfacing Professor

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