Reliable communications from Vizada Networks helps Norwegian meteorological service weather any kind of storm
When the Norwegian Meteorological Institute decided to upgrade communications to the easternmost manned weather observation post in the Arctic, it turned to Vizada Networks. Despite weather and engineering challenges, the Institute’s Hopen weather station now enjoys reliable, modern and lower-cost communications. The result: more accurate and timely forecasting and climate research, and improved staff morale, thanks to the ability to access the Internet.
With three offices in Norway (Oslo, Bergen and Tromsø), 425 employees, observation stations across the country and more than 1,000 people on duty at various times, the Norwegian Meteorological Institute (Met.no) provides meteorological services that help with the protection of life and property, in planning and also in protecting the environment.
Met.no operates three observation stations in the Arctic Ocean: Jan Mayen, Bjørnøya and Hopen. It also operates a meteorological observation network in Norway covering the in-shore maritime zone and Svalbard; conducts research and development projects; and actively cooperates with international meteorological networks.
“The weather observations received from Hopen have always been important to weather forecasting for the Arctic area, for Spitsbergen, the Barents area, and for the northern part of Norway,” explained Børre Knutsen of Met.no. “For decades Met.no has also measured and monitored changes to the coverage of ice surrounding the North Pole and in the Arctic, and Hopen is an important part of that. But now, an increasing number of researchers use Hopen as a base - geologists chasing oil, earthquake researchers and scientists measuring polar light and climate change, for example.”
Added Knutsen, “In addition, access to the Internet has become a natural part of humans’ lives. Met.no wanted the staff at Hopen to be able to take part in that world. So making Internet services available to Hopen was an important part of the plan when we wanted to establish VSAT there.”
For more than a decade, Met.no has employed Vizada Networks’ VSAT satellite systems to communicate with its two observation stations, Jan Mayen and Bjørnøya, in the remote area of the Arctic Ocean. By contrast, telegraphy (Morse code), radio-based telephony and then mobile satellite phones were the only means of communication for the Hopen station.
With ten years of successful service to Jan Mayen and Bjørnøya, the Institute determined it was time to provide VSAT services to its Hopen station, the easternmost manned observation post in the Arctic.
Hopen’s location was an important consideration in all aspects of the project because it makes everything a challenge, including communication. A cliff island in the southeastern part of the Svalbard archipelago with an area of 47 square km, its strategic location has made it an important landing and refueling spot for helicopters, especially for rescue operations. It also was a German Air Force and Navy meteorological station from 1943 to 1945. Met.no established its weather station there in 1947. The island has no water source. The only fresh water comes from melted snow and rainwater.
When the Institute approached Vizada Networks to investigate establishing a VSAT link, it had questions about whether such an endeavor would even be technically possible. Locations that are so far south or north on the globe – Hopen is 76º 30” North and 25º 04” East - are a challenge because the line-of-sight between satellite and antenna should at least be 10°. At Svalbard, it is around 2.8°. The lower the elevation, the longer the signal must travel through the atmosphere, and that means it is more exposed to bad weather conditions, high and changing humidity, and other factors that weaken the signal.
More polar bears than people
In addition, there are the inevitable natural, geographical and technical challenges at Hopen. Frozen seas during long winters and wind-driven waves limit ship access to a few days in the summer. Because the island has no pier where ships can dock, people, food and all equipment need to be transported to the shore in small boats from ships. Also, there are more polar bears than people living on the island, a challenge not just for people but for the equipment.
The above challenges are why the Institute came to Vizada Networks. No other vendor would have as good a chance of helping the Hopen station connect with the rest of the world.
Following an open RFP, the Norwegian Meteorological Institute chose Vizada Networks for delivery of VSAT satellite communication solutions to Hopen. Unlike competitors, Vizada Networks had the engineering expertise to provide service. In addition, Vizada Networks also possessed knowledge of local conditions and had the ability to respond quickly to problems. Vizada Networks also had already proved its capability – and the value it provides - by establishing VSAT satellite-based connection to Jan Mayen and Bjørnøya stations 10 years ago.
The solution, based on SCPC technology, provides satellite bandwidth that is dedicated to the client. This efficient solution, designed for a duplex satellite link up to 2048 kbps, provides reliable Internet access and IP-based communications that are always available, enabling the Hopen station to easily communicate with Met.no’s office in Oslo.
Due to the extreme weather conditions at Hopen, the satellite equipment installed on the island includes a 1.8-meter KU-band satellite antenna that is a high-wind approved type with anti-icing features. Both dish and antenna mounts are designed for high-wind surveillance. The outdoor installation is properly grounded and the BUC (Block Up Converter) is installed on the antenna pedestal to reduce weight on the feed arm of the antenna. For protection against gnawing by polar bears, cables have special plastic coating. Solid fencing is necessary for the whole outdoor installation.
The benefits and results
On 30 September 2008, the staff at the Hopen observation station sent its historic first email to colleagues in Oslo and experienced its first IP phone call.
For Met.no, the new VSAT satellite-based link enables convenient communication to and from Hopen and among the staff. Moreover, this solution is extremely cost-efficient in comparison to the previous one where high airtime rates were charged for usage of mobile satellite phones for very limited service.
Vizada Networks can check remotely that the VSAT connection is working, providing 24/7/365 pro-active monitoring and control of the link. And because it is such a remote location, Vizada Networks stores spare parts at Hopen to ensure that contingent outages can be solved quickly. After a minimum hands-on training, the Met.no’s personnel at Hopen are able to replace faulty spare parts and have access, as needed, to telephone assistance from the Vizada Networks NOC (Network Operations Center).
“All of our expectations have been fulfilled,” said Knutsen. “The experience, from the first three months of operation, shows a very high availability of service. The weather observations are regular, the staff has access to the Internet, and they have a telephone connected to the Met.no PBX in Oslo. Our partners, such as the polar light and earthquake researchers, are happy to be able to monitor their instruments in real time instead of waiting for the data to be delivered by boat once or twice during a short summer.”