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KU Engineers to Depart for Antarctica for Ice Sheet Research

Monday, November 14, 2005

[Greenland ice sheet 2005]

A team of engineers, scientists and students from the National Science Foundation Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS), based at the University of Kansas, will leave Dec. 1 for McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

The five-member team — the first of two CReSIS teams — will take advantage of the Antarctic summer to conduct research at the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide ice core site to collect data with advanced radar sensors developed as a part of a large Information Technology Research Project.

The NSF established CReSIS on June 1, 2005, with a $19 million grant. It is one of only two Science and Technology Centers established in 2005. The multidisciplinary, multi-institutional center is developing new sensors, methods of collecting data, communication tools and modeling to better understand the mass balance of the world's polar ice sheets and their contribution to global sea-level change. The center is led by Prasad Gogineni, Deane E. Ackers distinguished professor of electrical engineering and computer science at KU.

"The goal of the center — is to bring all the technology and tools together to really understand what is happening to the polar ice sheets and then model them," Gogineni said.

Radars and other sensors developed by CReSIS engineers and scientists will be used to obtain a detailed image of the bed of the ice sheet and map deep and shallow internal layers to determine flow history and snow accumulation, respectively. KU researchers successfully demonstrated they can achieve this at the summit of Greenland, whose ice sheet is more than 3 kilometers thick, on surface-based platforms. The technology has to be further developed and miniaturized to fit on unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, that can cover large-scale areas.

Currently available satellite technology is providing researchers with information on the ice sheet surface elevation. Scientists can use this data to determine the growth or shrinkage of the ice caps and map the extent of surface melt and surface velocity of the ice flow.

"The satellite observations are definitely telling us that there are rapid changes taking place in some areas, but they aren't telling us why," Gogineni said. CReSIS's mission is to help provide some answers through previously unavailable data and modeling that will help predict what will happen to the ice sheets and their impact on sea-level change.

Specialized equipment that can withstand the harsh climate, including a robotic rover built by KU engineering students, already is en route to the Antarctic destination. Once there, the rover will methodically travel along pre-determined 30-kilometer tracts of the vast ice sheet. Radars on the rover will image the bed of ice over a 10-kilometer by 30-kilometer area to determine whether the ice sheet is frozen to the bed or sliding on a film of water. A separate research team will collect ice core samples that will be used to interpret radar maps of internal layers. Summertime temperatures in this part of Antarctica can be well below freezing.

The first team will stay at least until Dec. 20, at which point a second seven-member CReSIS team will arrive to help continue the study. The entire 12-member team includes faculty, staff and graduate students from KU, a physical science technician from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a student from partner institution Elizabeth City (N.C.) State University.

CReSIS is headquartered at KU and has as core partners Elizabeth City State University, Haskell Indian Nations University, the University of Maine, The Ohio State University and Pennsylvania State University. The CReSIS team draws upon the expertise available at KU and world-renowned centers in polar research at partner institutions. In addition, a number of international universities have been drawn in to collaborate.

Learn more about polar research efforts at




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