The WindSled offers scientists the possibility of bearing an active laboratory on ice while traveling at 20 km (12.42 mi) / hour on average. Thanks to the energy facilitated by photovoltaic panels, the laboratory can be kept active with scientific instrumentation and computers functioning on the go. Being a zero emissions vehicle, the WindSled allows scientists to collect samples not contaminating with the means of transportation. Samples may be accumulated in the storage module as well, up to a total of four tons in advanced designs of the vehicle.
In the two former Antarctica expeditions performed, diverse research projects have been included. The results are now pending publication.
During the Trans Antarctica Expedition 2005-2006, geologist Juan Manuel Viu collected ice samples every 40 km (24.85 mi), along a journey of 4,500 km (2796.17 mi) in which the so-called “inaccessible area” is crossed. Finally, and due to the adverse weather conditions that the expeditionary encountered, the collection was less than expected.
In any case, it became clear that with an improved vehicle design, it would be possible to develop a serious and novel scientific program.
The Acciona Antarctic Wind Powered Expedition 2011-2012 incorporated a scientific program with three projects led by Mr. Juan Pablo Albar, biologist and researcher at the National Biotechnology Center (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, CSIC) in Spain. The principal researcher was Mr. Jean Robert Petit, research director at Laboratoire de Glaciologie et de Géophysique de l’ Environnement de Grenoble with the participation of CNRS, Université Joseph Fourier.
The scientific goal was to determine the composition of stable isotopes (O18/O16 and Deuterio/H1) of snow in areas of the ‘plateau’. These samples were scooped up every 50 km (31.06 mi), snow/ice 2 x 50 ml (1.691 oz) and straight up to the geographical South Pole. Council for Scientific Research (CSIC – IDAEA). Its objective was to determine contamination levels of persistent organic elements (POPs) with a device, developed by IDAEA, which collects semi passive air samples throughout the entire journey. Samples collected by absorbent membranes are still being analyzed and will be published shortly in a high impact scientific journal.
It will be the first publication concerning atmospheric monitoring in Antarctica with a zero emissions vehicle. Mr. David Velazquez, Biology Department at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, took snow samples along the entire route to establish the presence of compounds with a biological origin.
Every 750 km (466.02 mi) a snow sample was collected in quasi sterile conditions and the cold chain maintained right up to the laboratory where the dissolved organic matter in the snow (DOC) is determined to eventually study the genetic material.
These projects illustrated the great potential the WindSled represents for research, so far being the only system of sample collection utilized in the most remote and unexplored regions of the continent without generating an environmental impact that would affect the outcome of the results.
With the addition of solar panels to produce energy (Antarctic summers have 24 hours of daylight), the WindSled project also allows taking cylindrical core samples of underground ice (core ice) to facilitate studies on climate change in the Earth’s past.
The WindSled is also the most suitable vehicle to manage periodic data collection sensors and automated stations which can be installed using the same means of transportation in the area without disturbing the delicate environmental equilibrium.