KU on Ice from KC Star's Techno File

Kansas City,MO (11-18-2003)

From The Kansas City Star
By David Hayes

Being at the top of the world definitely has its disadvantages.

Sure, there's that cold thing snow on the Fourth of July and all but there's also the isolation of being cut off from the rest of the world, including e-mail and research available on the Internet.

Researchers at the University of Kansas in Lawrence have not been able to do anything about the weather in Greenland, but they have stepped in to bring the top of the world closer through technology.

Victor Frost, a KU professor and director of the university's Information and Telecommunication Technology Center, led a team that developed technology that, for the first time, offers usable Internet access to researchers on the ice.

Working at the top of the world or at the Antarctic closer to the South Pole presents some complex communications issues, Frost said. There are no traditional phone lines or high-speed Internet connections. And commercial satellite systems don't reach much of Greenland or Antarctic.

That leaves Iridium, which offers data communications at only a mind-numbingly slow 2,400 bits per second.

Frost, working in Lawrence, and KU researchers in Greenland developed technology to link four Iridium satellite modems to set up faster Internet access for researchers at the North Greenland Ice Core Project in the middle of the Greenland ice cap.

The technology allowed researchers in Greenland to connect to the Internet at 9,600 bits per second painfully slow compared with the 62,000 bit-per-second connections dial-up users can get in the United States, but blazingly fast for a remote camp at the top of the world.

Frost said the KU team set up a wireless network at the camp, which allowed researchers to share the connection.

"It's the first time this camp had any decent Internet access," Frost said. "One of the complaints was it ruined Saturday night social life because everyone was checking e-mail."

The KU team used Internet access for research, to download technical manuals, to download global positioning system software, to order replacement equipment and to send out a news release, Frost said.

KU researchers with the Polar Radar for Ice Sheet Measurement project in Greenland have developed radar to create maps of the bedrock on which the snow and ice of Greenland rest. The project is part of an international effort to determine the extent of global warming.

A team of two dozen Europeans, led by Danish researchers, have set up camps on the Greenland ice to study the history of the earth's changing climate by looking at the ice cap. The group hit bedrock last summer, after drilling through almost two miles of ice 120,000 years old.

So far, the KU project has been an unqualified success. When the Danish team hit bedrock, KU's radar pinpointed it within 0.01 meter.

Meanwhile, the KU Internet technology eventually will allow robotic rovers to send back radar data as they travel across the ice both in Greenland and Antarctica.

The technology is being reviewed by a private company for use in remote communications.

To reach David Hayes, senior technology writer, call (816) 234-4904 or send e-mail to dhayes@kcstar.com.

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