Ice in the Balance

Lawrence,KS (08-26-2003)

From The University Daily Kansan
By Amber Byarlay

San Franciscos Golden Gate Bridge could be underwater and New York Citys skyscrapers might barely poke out of the ocean.

It sounds far-fetched but a University of Kansas research team is trying to determine if these watery scenarios could become reality.

Members of the Polar Radar for Ice Sheet Measurements team went to Greenland this summer to test equipment they had either built or modified at the University. They gathered data that would help geologists map the ice sheets.

PRISM is researching and mapping the ice sheets to try to determine if its base is composed of rock, water or ice.

Team member Hans Harmon, Lawrence graduate student, said knowing the composition of the ice sheet base helped scientists determine how quickly the ice was coming off the sheet. If the base is water, it will move faster than if the base is rock or ice.

Members are also trying to determine the thickness of the ice sheets and learn more about its internal layers. This will help researchers understand the history of the ice sheets, in particular, whether they are melting faster now than they were in the past.

Ice sheets are formed when snow falls. Theyre destroyed when a glacier pushes them into the ocean. As long as ice sheets form as quickly as they are destroyed, there wont be a problem. When theres an imbalance if its too hot, or if theres too much pressure then the glaciers will push ice sheets into the ocean causing water levels to rise anywhere from 7 to 70 meters. This could cover coastal cities such as San Francisco or New York and destroy flood plains by covering them with salt water.

The team is researching to determine at what rate the ice sheets are being destroyed and created, though tangible results may be some way off. The team is at least a decade away from knowing how fast things are happening and what is happening, said David Braaten, team member and associate professor of atmospheric science.

When in Greenland, the team tested its bistatic radar, which uses two antennae: one to emit radio signals and one to receive the signals. The team also tested dual-mode radar, which allowed members to figure out the characteristics of the ice sheets and tested rovers to make sure they could maneuver in Greenlands cold climate.

The team also worked with wireless communications equipment, which allows the rovers to communicate with one another and researchers without being connected by cords.

Finally, the team tested outreach equipment that allowed them to send updated, live information to schools. The information is sent using satellite that pick up the information and send it to the teams Web site, The team was able to send video clips, field reports and photos during its Greenland visit.

The team did its research at the North Grip field location in the middle of Greenland from June 23 to July 17 and plans to return to Greenland in the summer of 2004 to do research on ice sheets that are south of the North Grip site in a field location called Summit. Another Greenland trip is planned for the summer of 2005, when the team will test its equipment at a remote glacier. The exact location of this trip will be determined later, Braaten said.

Despite Greenlands imposing conditions, Braaten said the only problem the team had was getting some laptops to work in temperatures ranging from the low 20s to negative 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

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