Archive for Sunday, September 2, 2007

KU provides key research on global warming

Scientists travel great distances for data

September 2, 2007


Ice sheets

To better understand what will happen as the world warms, researchers have to go to some of the coldest regions of the earth: Greenland and Antarctica. And, the Kansas University-based Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets has some of the best technology in the world to gather the data miles below those massive ice sheets. Enlarge video

KU research dedicated to the study of Artic ice sheets

The fields of Kansas might be thousands of miles from the Arctic ice sheets, but the only place in the world that's dedicated solely to studying these massive sheets of ice calls KU home. Enlarge video

Related document

Arctic Academics ( .PDF )

In August, Kansas University research assistant Claude Laird braved below-freezing temperatures and a trek across Greenland's ice divide.

Two months before, George Tsoflias, an assistant professor of geophysics, was planting explosives and recording the blasts in the world's fastest moving glacier.

And, this past winter, associate professor of aerospace engineering Rick Hale and graduate student Bill Donovan were testing how well unmanned airplanes could fly over Antarctica's barren ice sheet.

KU faculty and staff have traveled to some of the coldest regions on the planet to do research that puts them at the center of one of the hottest topics of the day: global warming.

Their work is spurred by the KU-based Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets, the only center in the world dedicated to studying just ice sheets.

Two years ago, the center, which partners with five other schools, was formed at KU from a five-year, $19 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

And the technology that the center has developed - a radar system that penetrates through three kilometers and thousands of years worth of ice - is the best in the world for gathering data on the massive ice sheets. No other radar system can go as deep and map out images at such a high resolution.

"It has revolutionized the study of ice sheets," said the center's director, Prasad Gogineni.

Since the 1960s, KU has been studying how to gather data through remote sensing, which uses radar, satellites and sound recordings to collect information.

By the early 1990s, Gogineni was studying radar and ice sheets at KU with support from NASA.

The research got a boost when David Braaten, an atmospheric science professor, heard a lecture Gogineni gave on the radar in 1999. Braaten had been making trips to Antarctica researching snow accumulation. At that time, it was a task that required digging deep snow pits, and the thought of using radar to gather the information was a nice one.

The two had lunch, and a partnership was formed. Braaten started writing proposals for more funding, and the grants came. It helped that their research involved a growing catchphrase: global warming.

"It's sort of being at the right place at the right time," said Braaten, who is now the center's deputy director.

While there is much to be studied about what will happen as the world warms, the effect of melting ice sheets is no small question.

In fact, this year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - the global organization that studies the subject - acknowledged that more research was needed on how much of an impact the disappearing ice sheets would have on increasing sea levels.

"It is looking at one of the most important issues for humanity in the next century and even for that matter this century," Gogineni said.

The information the radar collects lets researchers see what is at the bottom of all that ice, which is important in gauging how fast the ice sheets will melt. The center also uses satellite images and sound waves.

At the heart of the center's mission is to get the data needed to build models that predict the speed at which the ice sheets melt. Those models will help governments around the world plan for the rising tides.

"We do hope that we will be here for the next 10 years and beyond and really make KU one of the key players in climate change research," Gogineni said.


Godot 10 years, 7 months ago

Ice has been melting more rapidly than ever since scientists began blowing up the ice for research. Amazing. :)

Alison Carter 7 years, 2 months ago

Very thorough coverage of this substantive lecture. Good job!

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