Special radar to be built at University of Alabama

Professors Stephen Yan, Prasad Gogineni working on radar
Professors Stephen Yan, Prasad Gogineni working on radar

An international team of researchers is studying the North-East Greenland Ice Stream to find out how much glaciers and ice sheets will influence rising seas.

According to a report on the school’s website, engineering researchers at The University of Alabama will develop a radar that should provide an accurate image of what occurs at the base of the ice.

The radar will the first of its kind, advancing the use of a type of radar known as ultra-wide band surface-based radar for scanning the interior of ice.

In the report, engineering professor Prasad Gogineni said, “Right now, there is no radar capable of imaging ice layers within the bottom 10 percent of the ice with the resolution and precision required for this project, and that’s what we are developing.This will be a state-of-the-art radar unique in the world to do something that has not been done before.”

The project will be funded through a nearly $1 million grant from a Denmark-based foundation, Villum Fonden, which is funding the larger project led by Dorthe Dahl-Jensen, a professor at the University of Copenhagen.

The report says this is the first project for the newly-established UA Remote Sensing Center, which plans to develop technologies that enable high-resolution measurements of soil moisture, snow and ice. Gogineni, an international-recognized expert in the field of remote sensing, leads the center.

At the outset of the project, Gogineni is joined by Charles O’Neill, assistant professor of aerospace engineering and mechanics, and Stephen J. Yan, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

The report says that like a slow moving river, the North-East Greenland Ice Stream carries water into the ocean by dumping icebergs and melting on its edges. Its speed has been increasing, but changes in the ice stream are not well understood, making it difficult to predict through modeling.

“We need to better understand what is happening at the very base of these ice streams and glaciers to be able to incorporate them into better models that predict what an ice sheet’s contribution will be to sea level rise in the future,” Gogineni said in the report.

The ice stream has been studied heavily through drilling ice core samples and airborne radar but this project aims to understand how the structure of the ice crystals and the interaction within the ice, particularly at the bottom, has influenced flow over time. To help with that, researchers need a detailed image of the ice stream that will come from the radar built by the UA engineers. The radar will be used to expand knowledge from a site where a core sample will be removed.

According to the report, The radar will operate at a higher power and have a bigger antenna than similar radars for ice sounding. The radar is planned to be pulled over the ice surface by a vehicle at about 10 mph, moving much slower than existing airborne radars and thus allowing measurements that are more sensitive.

The result should mean a radar 100 times more sensitive than the current state-of-the-art radar used to image glaciers, Yan said in the report.

Larry Gierer: 706-571-8581, @lagierer