Australian Antarctic Automatic Weather Stations
Climate Data

Antarctica - valued, protected and understood

The Automatic Weather Stations

The AWS used are designed and built within the Australian Antarctic Division. Three different station designs have been used by our group. All stations use the ARGOS data relay system, carried by the NOAA series of near-polar orbiting satellites. The large overlap of the field-of-view of successive NOAA satellite orbits at high latitude benefits polar locations, and it is possible to obtain direct observations approximately hourly.

All stations measure air temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind speed and direction. Most measure air temperature and wind speed at more than one height, providing data on near-surface vertical gradients, a check on the data accuracy, and some instrumental redundancy. Some stations have additional sensors measuring snow temperature at different depths, atmospheric humidity, solar radiation and height of the sensors above the snow surface (which changes due to snow accumulation and ablation) as well as several "house-keeping" parameters (voltage, internal temperature, etc.).

Figure 1 shows a series 098 AWS (the latest version) undergoing tests in Australia. The main station consists of a mast with instrument arms at 3 levels (nominally 1, 2 and 4 m above the surface). Shielded air temperature sensors and anemometers are mounted on these arms. Other sensors mounted on arms include humidity, wind direction and snow surface height. There is a pyranometer mounted on the very top of the mast to measure incoming solar radiation, and sub surface snow temperatures are measured with a buried thermistor chain.

The AWS controller, Argos satellite transmitter, power regulation circuitry, pressure transducer and batteries are mounted in a box at the base of the mast. Batteries are recharged during summer by a small, vertically-mounted solar panel near the top of the mast. The AWS draws an average of only 3 mA of 12VDC power, with the satellite transmitter consuming approximately 95% of the total power.

Figure 2 shows a series 098 AWS deployed in Antarctica, and Figure 3 shows an earlier model series 088 AWS undergoing maintenance in Antarctica (click on the figures to enlarge).

Details of the sensors used on each station, and the operational history of the stations is provided in station records at the Australian Antarctic Data Centre.

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
(Click figures to enlarge)

The station network

The first Australian AWS were deployed during over-snow glaciological traverses. AWS were deployed in Wilkes Land in the mid 1980s during IAGP traverses International Antarctic Glaciological Project) from Casey towards Vostok, and around the 2000 m ice sheet elevation contour. In the late 1980s and early 1990s a series of AWS were deployed along the 2500 m contour around the Lambert Glacier Basin during the LARGE project (Lambert-Amery Regional Glaciology Experiment). Later stations were also deployed by aircraft and most recently a number of stations have been deployed at potential sites for an airfield for an intercontinental link between Australia and Antarctica.

A new project investigating interaction between the Amery Ice Shelf and the underlying ocean uses a modified AWS to relay basic meteorological parameters as well as data from oceanographic instruments deployed in the sub-shelf cavity through a hot water drill hole (station AM02). One AWS was also deployed alongside the Brown Glacier on sub-antarctic Heard Island (53°S, 74°E).

See Figure 4 below for the locations of AWS in the network. Geographic locations (lat,lon) and periods of data availability for AWS in the network are given in the data table. The latest AWS was deployed at Aurora Basin North in support of a surface mass-balance project.

Data reception and quality control

The first Australian AWS were deployed during over-snow glaciological traverses. Near real time, three-hourly synoptic data from most AWS are distributed directly by Service Argos via the World Meteorological Organisation's Global Telecommunication System [GTS]. The data are used in operational weather forecasting.

Approximately hourly raw data from all operating AWS are sent by CLS Argos to the Australian Antarctic Division's Data Centre. After cessation of a calendar year these are processed to meteorological values (where necessary), and edited for erroneous data using in-house software. The resulting processed data, including daily and monthly averages, are available from the data page.

Many of the AWS are never revisited after initial deployment. Station GC41, for example, has operated continuously and reliably at a low accumulation inland site, without a maintenance visit, since first deployed in October 1984. Accuracy of the data from such stations can only be judged from the internal consistency of different sensors.

Figure 4: AWS location map (click to enlarge)


Allison, I. and Morrissy, J.V. (1981). Automatic meteorological stations and data buoys in the Antarctic - recent Australian experience. In: N.W. Young (Ed.). Antarctica: Weather and Climate. Royal Meteorology Society, Australian Branch. 3-15.

Allison, I. and Morrissy, J.V. (1983). Automatic weather stations in Antarctica. Australian Meteorological Magazine, 31(2), 71-76.

Allison, I. (1988). The ANARE Automatic Weather Station program. Argos Newsletter 35, 15.

Allison, I., Wendler, G. and Radok, U. (1993). A climatology of the East Antarctic ice sheet (100° to 140°E) derived from automatic weather stations. Journal of Geophysical Research, 98(D5), 8815-8823.

Allison, I. (1998). The surface climate of the interior of the Lambert Glacier basin: 5 years of automatic weather station data. Annals of Glaciology 27, 515-520.

Phillpot, H. (1991). The deviation of 500 hPa height from automatic weather station observations in the Antarctic continental interior. Australian Meteorological Magazine 39, 79.

Radok, U., Allison, I. and Wendler, G. (1996). Atmospheric surface pressure over the interior of Antarctica. Antarctic Science, 8(2), 209-217.

Ding, M., Xiao, C., Li, Y., Ren, J., Hou, S., Jin, B., Sun, B. (2011). Spatial variability of surface mass balance along a traverse route from Zhongshan Station to Dome A, Antarctica. Journal of Glaciology. 57, 658-666.

Ding, M., Xiao, C., Yang, Y., Wang, Y., Li, C., Yuan, N., Shi, G., Sun, W., Ming, J. (2016). Re-assessment of recent (2008-2013) surface mass balance over Dome Argus, Antarctica. Polar Research. 35, 26133.

Ding, M., Agrawal, A., Heil, P., and Yang, D. (2019). Surface energy balance on the Antarctic plateau as measured with an automatic weather station during 2014. Advances in Polar Science. 30(02), doi10.13679/j.advps.2018.0050.

Ding, M., Yang, D. (2019). Meteorological observations at AWS Panda-1 during 2011, East Antarctica. Chinese Academy of Meteorological Science. doi10.1594/PANGAEA.905761.

AWS page history

Ian Allison and Andrew Roberts (July 2004)
Neal Young (June 2008)
Petra Heil and Glenn Hyland (August 2014)
Sam Lake, Glenn Hyland and Petra Heil (October 2021)