Objectives As an emerging airborne remote sensing system, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) falls into multiple categories with various payloads, such as the multi‐rotor and fixed‐wing ones. Despite the harsh climatic condition, UAV is widely used in many Antarctic fields of basic and applied science, which still lacks a comprehensive and systematic literature review.
Methods We firstly discuss the special impact of Antarctic environmental conditions (meteorology, electromagnetic field, light, etc.) on the UAV operation. A comprehensive literature retrieval is subsequently presented on the current application of UAV in Antarctic research and expedition. We sort out 104 papers according to the time of publication, main journals, study areas, nations, and institutions. Representative literature is reviewed in seven application areas, including aeromechanics, atmosphere, sea ice and iceberg, glacier, geomorphology and geomagnetism, ecology‐vegetation as well as ecology‐animals. We retrospect the development and achievement of UAV's applications in the Chinese national Antarctic research and summarize the limitations of the research on the application of UAV in Antarctica.
Results A number of environmental factors need to be considered before the UAV missions, such as the meteorological conditions, electromagnetic field, solar radiations, and flight regulations. According to the review, half of the literature belongs to the journal paper, mostly in Polar Biology, Polar Science, and Remote Sensing. The earliest UAV research in Antarctica was published in 2004, followed by a productive period of International Polar Year in 2008. The first‐tier countries including the USA, Australia, and Germany, led the progress in the research on UAVs in Antarctica. Meanwhile, the dominant role of top universities stood out via various collaborations. The UAV can also be classified into multiple categories according to the payload, such as the industrial‐ or consumer‐grade optical cameras, radiosonde, synthetic aperture radar, and light detecting and ranging(LiDAR), among which consumer‐grade camera is widely used in Antarctic investigations. China's Antarctic expedition team initiated the Antarctic UAV program in 2007 and had carried out at least 18 flight missions by 2020. The flights covered Zhongshan Station, The Great Wall Station, Inexpression Island, and the inland ice sheet, from which the collected data were employed to support the glaciological, geomorphic, and biological studies.
Conclusions The UAV remote sensing, as the essential technology in the"Air‐Space‐Ground" polar observation system, has been increasingly upgraded in the recent decade. The flight experiments covered the primary research topics and research fields in Antarctic science. In general, the application and development of Antarctic UAV in China lie in the second tier, falling behind the USA and Australia. In the end, according to the current development of Antarctic UAV in China, this paper provides guidance for China's Antarctic expedition team in the future: (1) Develop new UAV models; (2) Make breakthroughs in the battery technology; (3) Couple multiple sensors; (4) Encourage trans‐disciplinary collaboration; (5) Promote foreign communication and sharing; (6) Participate in the international management.