KU receives $8.7 million grant for polar ice research

Lawrence,KS (09-28-2001)

From The University of Kansas Office of University Relations

The University of Kansas has received $8.7 million in grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and other agencies for research that will help determine why sea levels have been rising for the past century.

The project will develop and deploy mobile radar sensors in the polar regions to collect and analyze real-time data about interactions between ice sheets, oceans, and the atmosphere.

KU's Information and Telecommunications Technology Center received the award as part of the NSF's Information Technology Research program, which spurs fundamental research and innovative uses of information technology in science and engineering. NSF awarded 308 grants, eight of which exceeded $5 million, from more than 2,000 competitive proposals. KU's proposal by Prasad Gogineni, Deane E. Ackers distinguished professor of electrical engineering and computer science, was the only large grant awarded in Kansas.

"This grant demonstrates clearly that Prasad and his group's work is internationally recognized for its excellence. It proves once again that KU faculty are competitive winners on a world stage," KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway said.

Gogineni will lead an international team of researchers that will measure ice thickness and basal conditions, as well as near-surface and deep internal layers, over selected areas. Gogineni has done research with ITTC's Radar Systems and Remote Sensing Laboratory, which has been involved with polar ice research, since the late 1980s.

"The results from this project will help us refine our understanding of the Antarctic ice sheet and how it responds to changes in the climate. Dr. Gogineni's project will add to the data and modeling efforts of many scientists who have an interest in developing a better understanding of this unique part of the world," said Julie Palais, program manager of the Antarctic Glaciology Program at NSF's Office of Polar Programs.

Outlet glaciers and ice streams control the discharge of ice into surrounding seas, and consequently the contribution of ice sheets to the rise of sea level, said Waleed Abdalati, manager of the Polar Program at NASA headquarters. Understanding the characteristics of these areas is essential to understanding how the ice sheets currently affect sea level, and how they are likely to do so in the future, Abdalati said.

"A major program objective at NASA is understanding changes in the mass of the Earth's ice cover and their potential effects on sea level rise," Abdalati said. "Since the Greenland and Antarctic Ice sheets represent a major reservoir of ice (equivalent to about 70 m of sea level), these areas are of particular interest. The system of radars will go a long way toward helping us understand the processes that control the discharge of ice to the surrounding seas."

Sea level has risen about 15 cm over the past century, and climate change is likely to accelerate this increase, with serious consequences for some of the 60 percent of the world's population living in coastal regions. Although about half of the recent sea-level rise was probably caused by net losses from the polar ice sheets (future contributions could be far larger), researchers still lack accurate estimates of the present ice-sheet mass balance (the net gain or loss of ice). Predictions of future behavior are little better than guesses.

The sensor web will collect, process, and analyze data from the ice. Vehicles will be equipped with ice-penetrating radars for mapping bed conditions, evaluating ice thickness, and looking at different layers of the ice sheet to understand past ice dynamics, and examining recent snowfalls. They will work cooperatively as a single distributed system to select and create optimal sensor configurations.

Gogineni and the team of researchers will launch the mobile sensor web in the next few years. The team's efforts enable researchers to study ice-sheet conditions at the bed by modeling present and future behavior of the ice sheets. The sensor web will give scientists new and accurate data, while reducing future operational costs and risks associated with polar research.

Palais said that researcher safety and reducing the human impact through the use of robotics and intelligent sensors were among NSF's considerations in selecting this project. While sensors and autonomous vehicles can never completely replace the need to send scientists to the Antarctic, this project is a step in the right direction.

"In the U.S. Antarctic Program, we have been striving in recent years to reduce our 'footprint' in Antarctica," Palais said. "New innovative technologies of this kind will help us to collect data without having to send as many personnel and field parties into this remote scientific laboratory and will in the end reduce costs and minimize the human impact on one of Earth's last pristine environments."

KU is leading a multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary team on the Mobile Sensor Web for Polar Ice Sheet Measurement project. KU team members are: Arvin Agah, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science; Chris Allen, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science; David Braaten, associate professor of physics and astronomy; Victor Frost, Ackers distinguished professor of electrical engineering and computer science; Glenn Prescott, professor of electrical engineering and computer science; and Costas Tsatsoulis, professor of electrical engineering and computer science.

Other participants include the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Ohio State University, the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, the University of Chicago, the University of Copenhagen, the Alfred Wegener Institute (Germany), the University of Bristol, the Australian Antarctic Division, and the Phoang Institute of Technology (Korea).

Click Here to View Project Animation

For more information, contact ITTC.

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