Antarctic Picam | The MagPi #130

A simple waterproof camera by a school student is being used to look under the cracks in the Antarctic. Rob Zwetsloot takes a peek for the latest issue of The MagPi.

Way back in issue 74, we wrote about PiCam Marine, little monitoring devices for cold water coral deployed by submarine. We like to think the projects we publish in the magazine can act as inspiration, and this one did…

30 minutes of footage is taken by the Camera Module 2, which is able to see just fine through the acrylic window
30 minutes of footage is taken by the Camera Module 2, which is able to see just fine through the acrylic window

“A couple of years ago, we started designing and using Raspberry Pi-based camera systems for under-sea research work,” Dr Autun Parser tells us. He’s a research scientist for the Alfred Wegener Institute of Polar and Marine Research. “These cheap, programmable platforms allow us to place many cameras on the sea-floor, for the same costs as one ‘off the shelf’ marine camera. We had an article on these cameras in The MagPi magazine and Oliver contacted us, a student then at the International School Bremen, Germany, who wanted to design and program his own camera.”

The seal uses a very simple plumbing system
The seal uses a very simple plumbing system

“[I really] wanted to see what laid in the river outside of my house,” Oliver explains. “After I first deployed the camera, I told Autun, who said that he could take it with him to Antarctica on his next mission.” With the camera tested, Autun stood by his word, took it on the RV Polarstern, a research icebreaker ship, and deployed it during two helicopter missions.

Plumbing the depths

The solution for the water-tight camera ended up being nice and simple.

The PiCam ready to submerge

“Oliver made the camera housing out of robust plastic, and used an interesting plumbing seal to close one end,” Autun says. “You put a Raspberry Pi in, turn on the power, and turn a nut to close the housing… the nut presses two plastic pieces together to expand a rubber seal – very effective, quick, and robust. The front of the housing is a simple acrylic sheet, against which a standard Raspberry Pi Camera Module 2 was placed. This was connected to a Raspberry Pi 3, attached to a wood mounting block. Below the block, a simple USB power bank was placed to power the system.”

The PiCam was used in helicopter missions
The PiCam was used in helicopter missions

Oliver’s original version also had a little bait container to try and lure fish closer. “The program is written entirely in Python, simply takes a 30-minute recording, and after the 30 minutes, it automatically shuts off,” Oliver elaborates. According to Autun, this 30-minute length of the script was enough for what they had planned: lower from a helicopter, let the video record, and then retrieve it. It was deployed five times during the mission, mainly through ice cracks. “We even slid it from the helicopter down the flank of a large iceberg and down onto a shelf of ice 10 m or so below the waterline,” Autun mentions.

Icy depths

“The results from the camera have been really good,” Olive tells us. “It’s able to capture decent footage, and I can clearly make out everything that it captures. Raspberry Pi is relatively low on power usage, and the battery has enough capacity that, theoretically, the camera could run for a couple of hours.”

View from under the ice
View from under the ice

Autun sent us some amazing images from under the ice to prove it, and is planning to use similar cameras for a future trip on the RV Polarstern, although this time up to the Arctic and the North Pole.

Algae grows on ice, apparently
Algae grows on ice, apparently

“Within our working group, we are very happy to support the development of environmental monitoring devices and sensors for use in polar regions, both above and below the ice, with a Raspberry Pi base,” Autun reveals. “We travel every year to the Arctic and/or Antarctic and we can gladly discuss taking your devices with us for testing and scientific use – the scientific community can definitely benefit from the development of systems and coding by enthusiastic makers. You can email [me] at if you have an idea of something you would like to see above or below the polar ice!”

The MagPi #130 out NOW!

You can grab the brand-new issue right now from Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, WHSmith, and other newsagents, including the Raspberry Pi Store in Cambridge. It’s also available at our online store which ships around the world. You can also get it via our app on Android or iOS.

magpi 130

You can also subscribe to the print version of The MagPi. Not only do we deliver it globally, but people who sign up to the six- or twelve-month print subscription get a FREE Raspberry Pi Zero Pico W!

The free PDF will be available in three weeks time. Visit the issue page for more details.

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