University gets $19M to study polar ice

Boston,Mass. (04-11-2005)

From The Boston Globe
By John Hanna

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- The University of Kansas will be home to a center studying the melting of polar ice caps, financed by the largest federal grant a Kansas university has ever received, officials said Monday.

The National Science Foundation has awarded the university almost $19 million to finance operations at the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets over the next five years. Its research will involve NASA and more than 40 scientists from 10 universities.

The center hopes to help scientists better understand climate change, how melting ice caps affect sea levels and how changing sea levels will affect nations' populations and economies.

"We need to understand what's happening with polar ice because it affects climate, sea levels and food supplies worldwide," Chancellor Robert Hemenway said during a news conference discussing the grant.

The center's work also could aid research into how global warming, rising sea levels and other climate changes that could affect Kansas and other Great Plains states, said David Braaten, a University of Kansas geography professor who will serve as the center's assistant director.

"The rising sea levels will have a ripple effect," he said. "If we get the same amount of precipitation, but it's all in March, that doesn't help the farmers much."

Previously, the largest grant awarded to a Kansas university was $18 million, which the University of Kansas received last year from the National Institutes of Health.

James Roberts, vice provost of research at the University of Kansas, says receiving two such large grants is akin to back-to-back victories in professional football's Super Bowl.

"The fact that it will put KU even further on the radar screen across the country is enormously helpful," Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said. "There is no question that universities themselves generate a huge economic impact -- a positive impact -- on the state."

About 25 scientists and researchers will work in new offices on the Kansas campus. The other scientists involved with the center's research will do their work at nine other institutions -- Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina, Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Pennsylvania State University, Ohio State University, University of Maine, University College of London, Denmark Technical Institute, the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and the University of Tasmania.

Officials said the center will create new technology for studying polar ice caps, then develop new ways to interpret data.

"The bottom line is, this is a very important problem," said Scott Borg, director of the National Science Foundation's Antarctic sciences. "It's immensely important to understand what's happening with the ice sheets."

The center will be among 13 financed by the National Science Foundation. The grant comes as some scientists worry about the thinning of polar ice caps and the potential for higher sea levels around the world.

The foundation awards large grants every few years. In the latest round, the Kansas proposal was chosen from among 168, with the only other award going to the University of California at Berkeley for a computer security project.

Last year, a NASA research team found that glaciers in Antarctica are thinning faster than they did in the 1990s and the ice cap may be less stable than previously thought.

Earlier this month, a Rhode Island-sized iceberg, the world's largest, began floating again, three months after running aground near Antarctica, causing problems for wildlife and research stations. That iceberg was part of an ice shelf that fractured five years ago.

Prasad Gogineni, a University of Kansas professor of electrical engineering and computer science who will serve as the new center's director, said research on climate changes is important because, like natural disasters, it is likely to hit poor nations the hardest.

"The U.S. has the responsibility to help the underdeveloped countries," he said

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