Ohio State shares in $19 million center to study polar ice

04/25/05

COLUMBUS , Ohio -- Ohio State University 's partnership in a new $19 million Science and Technology Center could give scientists a look at a part of the earth never before seen -- the part that is buried under several miles of polar ice.

What they find will help them understand how melting ice could affect global sea levels in the future, and perhaps even offer a better view of the surface of distant planets.

The National Science Foundation is funding the creation of the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) at the University of Kansas . As a partner in CReSIS , Ohio State will receive $2.5 million to help develop a new radar instrument to peer beneath earth's ice cover. New techniques for analyzing how ice accumulates are also in the works.

Ken Jezek, professor of geological sciences and leader of Ohio State's portion of the project, said that decades of collaboration between Ohio State and the University of Kansas have laid the foundation for the work that will be done at CReSIS. One such collaboration led to a successful test of a prototype radar instrument in Greenland last summer.

"We've just gotten a glimpse of some exciting results, and some new ideas that we're hoping to put into action," Jezek said. "If we can prove this technology and apply the results scientifically, we will realize a long-standing dream -- to strip away the overlying ice and see the rocky surfaces of Greenland, Antarctica, and maybe even some of the ice bodies scattered about our solar system."

Today, ice covers 10 percent of Earth's land surface, and more than 6 percent of the ocean. In some places, the glaciers are miles thick, and scientists can't directly study the bottom -- where ice meets rock, soil, and water.

Yet conditions in this invisible region could have a profound effect on how the ice will respond to climate change. Experts believe that the melting of polar ice will affect sea levels worldwide, as well as temperature regulation in the ocean and atmosphere.

Jezek thinks that the most recent results from the Ohio State-University of Kansas collaboration bring critical information about polar ice within reach. He hopes that the new radar system will be versatile enough to be used on land, from aircraft, or from satellites.

Meanwhile, Ellen Mosley-Thompson, professor of geography, and her colleagues will study the upper surface of the ice sheet. Her team will devise new ways to assess how much ice is accumulating -- or being lost -- on different parts of the ice sheet, and determine whether airborne radar can make such measurements accurately.

Jezek and Mosley-Thompson will be joined by others at Ohio State's Byrd Polar Research Center, including Lonnie Thompson, professor of geological sciences; Victor Zagorodnov, research scientist in geological sciences; Bea Csatho, research scientist; Kees van der Veen, visiting associate professor of geological sciences and research scientist; and Katy Farness and Ping Nan Lin, both research associates. The project will support three new graduate students, and additional faculty may be recruited.

Should the new radar system work as well as early tests indicate, the researchers will need new methods for interpreting the data they obtain. Jezek is already working with Noel Cressie and Mark Berliner, both professors of statistics at Ohio State, to do just that. In a recent study, they developed computer models to estimate how fast ice is sliding over the surfaces of Greenland and Antarctica. That work is also funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Source: Eurekalert & others

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