As you might have noticed from a Journal-World story today, the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (aka CReSIS) has been busy.
As it does most years, CReSIS has sent out multiple teams to the Arctic and Antarctic regions to collect data on ice formations that will hopefully lead to more and more precise models of what the world's glaciers will do to sea levels as climate change continues and ramps up.
The Operation Ice Bridge team, an ongoing collaboration with NASA, has returned from Antarctica already. But the center still has teams funded by the National Science Foundation currently in Antarctica that are due back later this month.
John Paden, a courtesy associate professor of electrical engineering at Kansas University and a member of one of the Antarctic teams, said in an email that he and colleagues arrived at the McMurdo base in Antarctica on Saturday after camping out on the ice for weeks doing research.
Paden, along with Stephen Yan and Zongbo Wang, both of whom are also research faculty with CReSIS, were part of an airborne survey team. Since December, they have been collecting data from a DC-3 Basler aircraft equipped with radar equipment developed by CReSIS, as well as testing a new unmanned aerial vehicle (see today's story for more details).
I asked Paden to detail the trip in an email for readers. Writing from McMurdo, here is what Paden had to say (with some abridgments):
We fielded a number of systems this season including a small unmanned aircraft system (UAS), a new lightweight high frequency radar sounder onboard the UAS, a new version of an autonomous ground sensor called a geoPebble, a ground based radar system, two ultra-wideband radars and a Google-donated camera system onboard the Basler...
Since there were so many projects going on at our camp, including support for two aircraft and a large ice runway, we had a large camp with a galley, science tent, and six (wonderful) staff members to run the camp including a full time cook. This meant that most days we had lunch and dinner served by Sarah Sturges, a veteran field camp cook with many years of experience, and only had to help out with shoveling snow for drink water and kitchen clean-up duty or “house mouse” as it is known down here. And even though we sleep in regular unheated tents, our work space in the science tent has two stoves, plenty of power supplied by the camp generator and some furniture for setting up our equipment and working…
The two most exciting results for me this field season were about what we were able to see at the ice bottom. With the new radar system, our resolution improved 10 times over our previous system and is allowing us to see layers and features that were previously unresolvable... We also used a new method for increasing our imaging area of the ice bed by steering the transmit radar beam as we fly. We were able to create preliminary images of a few areas using this method while still in the field. Many of the flights were done on the “grounding lines” of the ice streams. The grounding line is where the ice goes afloat and is supported by ocean water underneath. Right now, it is thought that the grounding lines play a pivotal role in how a glacier or ice stream responds to changes in climate. Simulations of ice flow suggest that there are hinge points on the ice bed that catch the glacier and prevent the grounding line from moving rapidly upstream leading to a collapse of the glacier. One of the purposes of the new radar is to measure these grounding lines with fine enough resolution to create realistic models of the glaciers around Greenland and Antarctica.
Beyond that, we were fortunate to have really amazing camp staff who took care of so many things for us so that we could focus on our research. Also fun were the Christmas dinner and New Year’s dinner that everyone helped make and celebrate. For five of us, this was our first experience in Antarctica, and we got to enjoy stories and learn from veteran camp members, which was one of the best parts of being there. Despite a comfortable galley and science tent, being so far from anyone else and any kind of immediate support can be daunting, and having experienced and personable staff members made us all feel a little more at home in the Antarctic field camp.
Yesterday the Journal-World took a look at how the federal government shutdown was hitting home in Lawrence.
Up on the hill, most research at Kansas University will continue as normal for now, though there is concern about the funding, review and submission of future projects tied to federal agencies if the shutdown continues, said Kevin Boatright, director of communications for the KU Office of Research and Graduate Studies.
But one area of research, several thousand miles south of campus, is in limbo right now. The National Science Foundation announced Tuesday that when its funding runs out on Oct. 14, it will cut most of its staffing at Antarctic research stations, including McMurdo Station, a critical hub of logistical support for most scientific fieldwork in the Antarctic.
That could delay or even upend a handful of KU projects in Antarctica that were — until now —slated to begin in the coming weeks.
KU's Center for the Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets, or CReSIS, had two projects planned for Antarctica for the season, one of them a collaboration with NASA, another agency facing furloughs and near-full shutdown.
David Braaten, a KU professor of atmospheric science and deputy director of CReSIS, learned the projects could be in jeopardy when the National Science Foundation posted a notice about shutting down its Antarctic Program.
"The sad part is we hear bits and pieces of information and kind of assume the worst, but we really don't know," Braaten said.
Thomas N. Taylor, a KU professor of paleobiology, is also part of a team with plans for an Antarctic voyage this fall, in this case to collect fossils from the region to study the effects of climate change over time. Taylor also found out from the science foundation's website that his project could be stalled by the government shutdown. "We'd spent so much time getting everything and everybody set," Taylor said. "I just didn't think about the potential of (the shutdown) affecting us."
Even if a shutdown of McMurdo is short-lived, it could reverberate throughout the research season. More than 1,000 researchers worldwide depend on McMurdo and other government support operations in Antarctica. If an entire season is lost or even delayed, projects can't easily be rescheduled, Taylor said. That’s because so many scientific projects in Antarctica depend on government resources, such as helicopters to deploy them in remote areas of the continent, which are relatively limited even without a federal shutdown.
Taylor, Brataan and their colleagues are watching and waiting to see what, if anything, happens next.
At the moment, the situation is "not necessarily a disaster," Taylor said. "The two trains are rushing toward each other right now, but they haven't collided yet."
If the federal shutdown has you feeling cold and alone, send your woes and KU news tips to email@example.com