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CReSIS Plans Trip with Improved Radar

March 4, 2009

Students and professors at the Center for the Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets, or CReSIS, plan to measure the thickness of glacial ice sheets in Greenland this month with improved radar equipment.

Using the innovative radar Multi-Channel Radar Depth Sounder, researchers will measure the depth of ice sheets to better understand the speed at which they melt, a key consequence of global climate change.

The radar equipment will be shipped today to Calgary, Alberta, today before being sent on to Greenland.

Vicky Lytle, associate director of education for CReSIS, said dozens of undergraduate and graduate students worked year-round to help scientists better understand how climate change affected the melting of glaciers and rise in sea levels.

Researchers will fly over the glaciers in order to calculate their depths. Lytle described the depth sounder radar as a one-of-a-kind product designed specifically for this use.

“It’s literally the only radar in the world that can see the bottom of these glaciers,” Lytle said.

The researchers will survey the Jakobshavn, Helheim and Kangerlussuaq glaciers, which Lytle described as “key” fast-flowing glaciers that melted at much faster speeds than researchers originally thought.

Sivaprasad Gogineni, CReSIS director and professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, said this year’s trip was similar to last year’s. Researchers made last year’s trip in July but had trouble because of the sun’s melting the glaciers. Gogineni said the radar was not as effective during periods of glacial melting.

“When you are wanting to obtain ice thickness information,” Gogineni said, “that really is the wrong time to go.”

Because sea levels are rising at a much faster pace than most models originally predicted, Gogineni said sea-level rise was a central issue of all climate change discussions within the scientific community. Gogineni said many people living in coastal areas would soon feel the effects of the rising sea levels.

For updates on the Greenland 2009 project and other CReSIS information, visit www.cresis.ku.edu.

“This is one of the most important issues that the next few generations will face,” Gogineni said.

Cameron Lewis, Roeland Park doctoral student, will make the trek to Greenland on March 22. Lewis said the CReSIS radar was the only radar capable of producing high-resolution images of ice bedrocks.

“There are a lot of people out there with radars, but we’re the best,” Lewis said. “We’re able to get very scientific results.”

Lewis said he and other CReSIS researchers were trying to validate the hypothesis that lubrication at the base of ice sheets increased the speed of melting.

Ice sheets naturally flow from the center to the edges of the land on which they sit. Large chunks then break off into the ocean and melt, Lewis said.

“If there’s water down there, this process can happen much faster,” Lewis said.

Researchers will travel to Ilulissat, Greenland, later this month to prepare for surveying. Lytle said students and faculty would travel back and forth between Greenland and the University, depending on individual availability.

CReSIS is funded by a five-year, $19 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Gogineni said the current grant would expire in May 2010, and the foundation would decide whether to extend funding of the center.

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