Armed with $17.9 million in new federal funding, Kansas University’s Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets is looking to enter a new phase of its research on polar ice.
Since its founding in 2005, CReSIS has looked at ways to get a better sense of how to predict the impact of climate change on the world’s glaciers.
One example: KU researchers have developed an unmanned aircraft that can sweep across sheets of ice and provide detailed topographic images of the surfaces below.
While it’s easy to get a sense of the surface, CReSIS’ airplane can get an accurate picture of what’s going on at the ice bed.
The depth, thickness and geometry of the surface can all make a big difference in predicting how ice melts, as can the amount of water underneath the ice.
Think of an ice cube on a table, said Prasad Gogineni, the center’s director. If there’s no water underneath it, it may stick to the table.
But if it begins to melt, and a film of water forms between the ice cube and the table, the ice can move about a lot easier.
With the new funding in hand, CReSIS researchers can take technology that’s been developed over the past five years, and take it out into the field and begin gathering data, Gogineni said.
Current sea level projections don’t include estimates for the melting of the polar ice caps, because the data is too unreliable, said Richard Hale, associate professor of aerospace engineering.
Hale designed the new unmanned aircraft that will sweep across Greenland and Antarctica to gather data scientists have never seen.
And that, he said, is the whole point.
“We ask scientists, ‘What information do you need?’” Hale said, and then the center works on developing solutions to get at the data.
The airplane also saves on fuel costs; it takes about one-thirtieth the amount of fuel to fly, and allows access to more remote areas.
Beyond the planes, the center has developed numerous radars that can help map ice sheets at the surface, in the middle and at the bottom of the ice.
“We produce the best radars for ice sounding and imaging in the world,” Gogineni said.
He said he was happy to have been funded again and to have the opportunity to put these kinds of technologies into the field.
“The center has been a valuable asset for this university as well as the School of Engineering,” said Stuart Bell, KU’s engineering dean, in a release. “Dozens of our students, at both the graduate and undergraduate level, have been able to glean valuable hands-on experience before they advance from this institution.