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Chancellor, engineering dean to visit drilling site on Greenland glacier

Monday, July 28, 2008

[Tents where research is being conducted dot an ice field in Greenland.]

University of Kansas Chancellor Robert Hemenway and School of Engineering Dean Stuart Bell will join government and academic officials from more than a dozen nations — including the chair of a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist — at the North Greenland Eemian Ice Drilling site from Thursday, July 31, to Saturday, Aug. 2. They will represent KU’s Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets at the influential scientific gathering.

Hemenway and Bell will travel to NEEM with Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, is an international and intergovernmental body that assesses the latest scientific, technical and socioeconomic information related to human-induced climate change. Thomas L. Friedman, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist for the New York Times, will be part of the delegation, which includes Connie Hedegaard, Denmark’s minister for climate and energy; Kim Kielsen, Greenland’s minister for infrastructure, climate and environment; and Nils Andersen, dean of the University of Copenhagen.

NEEM, in northwest Greenland, is a scientific partnership among researchers from 14 nations. To learn about global warming, scientists are working to drill and retrieve an ice core from the Eemian era, the interglacial era that took place more than 115,000 years ago. During the Eemian, average temperatures were about five degrees warmer and sea levels were about five meters higher than they are today. Studying ice samples from the era could show researchers what the future may look like if global temperatures continue to rise.

KU’s National Science Foundation-funded Center for Remonte Sensing of Ice Sheets has a well-established research track record in Greenland. Investagators from the center perform radar and seismic testing of Greenland’s glaciers to learn more about their thickness, movement, rate of melting and more. KU scientists collected and provided data used to select the NEEM drill site.

“Our researchers from the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets are conducting some of the most sophisticated work in their field,” said Hemenway. “This ongoing partnership with great minds from around the world will only strengthen and advance the knowledge base about the Greenland Ice Sheet and what we can learn from it. I certainly look forward to visiting NEEM and getting a close look at the research that will be taking place there.”

The NEEM site, where the ice is more than two and a half kilometers thick, was selected as the most promising spot in Greenland to offer researchers an undisturbed ice core from the Eemian era. The International Ice Coring Community has called the work at NEEM the most important ice coring project in the Northern Hemisphere in conjunction with the International Polar Year, a collaborative effort between thousands of scientists and researchers from more than 60 nations to engage in polar-related physical and biological research topics. Organized by the International Council for Science and the World Meteorological Association, the “year” runs from 2007 to 2009, covering two full summer cycles for Arctic and Antarctic study.

“This visit is an excellent opportunity for KU to show how our researchers are developing valuable tools that will help the international research community succeed in their mission,” Bell said. “It’s also an important time for us to listen to their challenges and successes so we can identify new ways to proceed in this important endeavor.”

Hemenway and Bell will meet with Ralf Remmingsen, rector of the University of Copenhagen, before departing for Greenland. With their fellow visitors, they will travel from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, on Wednesday, July 30. They will travel to the margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet and see ice walls, waterfalls and wildlife. They will also have their first opportunity to walk on the ice sheet.

The following day, the group will fly with the U.S. Air National Guard to NEEM, where they will learn more about the camp’s logistics and drilling taking place there. Afternoon high temperatures in late July were recorded at -10 degrees Celsius, or 14 degrees Fahrenheit. That evening they will hear presentations from scientists working at NEEM.

On Friday, Aug. 1, the group will witness a solar eclipse from the glacier, then travel back to Kangerlussuaq. That evening, they will have dinner with more NEEM scientists before returning to Copenhagen the following day.

Researchers from the United States, Belgium, Canada, China, England, France, Germany, Holland, Iceland, Japan, South Korea, Sweden and Switzerland are participating in the NEEM partnership.

Story by University Relations

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