David Braaten has found a way to beat the summer heat - head to Greenland, where the highs are in the upper teens.
Braaten, an associate professor of geography at Kansas University, has spent the last two weeks there with a team of researchers working to perfect a radar system to measure ice sheets.
"It stays pretty cold," Braaten said in a phone interview with the Journal-World. "We sleep in unheated tents. You don't want to sleep with an arm outside the sleeping bag. You want to keep yourself in."
Not that he's had much time to sleep. Braaten and his team have been working 14-hour days, trying to finish their research before they leave on Thursday.
"If we're not sleeping, we're working or eating," Braaten said. "There hasn't been much time to just relax."
This is the first time the KU group - which also includes another faculty member, a research engineer, three graduate students and an undergraduate student - has done research in the field since KU became a national center for studying polar ice caps.
Measuring the future
A five-year, $19 million grant from the National Science Foundation, announced in April, created the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets. It brought together 40 scientists from 10 universities and NASA to study the implications of global warming and sea-level rise.
"It's great to be here," Braaten said. "It's fantastic to know we have the support for five years. It allows us to really look toward the future."
Specifically, the work is focused on the future of data-gathering on the Greenland ice sheets, with future applications also in Antarctica.
This is the first time the researchers are testing a surface-based radar, designed at KU, that has a fine resolution of about 3 centimeters. The radar will be used to measure layers of snow and ice accumulation, to give scientists a better idea about the composition of the ice sheets.
The researchers are digging several meters into the snow to verify the accuracy of the radar's readings.
"It's really the first try of the radar, and it's working perfect," Braaten said. "It's beyond our wildest dreams. I've never seen anything like this before that could match up as perfectly as it is."
They also are testing two other previously used radars, including one that indicates whether ice is frozen to the rock bed or if it's melted.
The KU-led group published a paper last September showing Antarctica's ice sheets were melting much faster than they did the previous decade. The melting, which could be the result of global warming, natural climate change or both, could affect millions of people living along coastlines because of sea-level rise.
Understanding the composition of the ice sheets with the new radar could help scientists predict future melting.
"We need to find out how this accumulation is happening both in space and time," said Prasad Gogineni, who directs the KU ice cap center but did not go on the research trip. "Testing this radar for the first time, it will definitely feed into some of the work we're going to do as part of the center."
The group is based at Summit Camp, a NSF-led research station in eastern Greenland. In addition to the cold, the sun doesn't set there, making sleeping difficult.
But the conditions aren't all bad. There are two professional cooks at the camp who get supplies every two weeks, so the scientists are well-fed. The menu has included chicken divan, Mexican food and pizza.
"The cooks are fantastic," Braaten said. "These aren't scientists who just happen to cook."