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NASA Radar Peers Through Polar Ice to Help Predict Future Melting and Movement

NASA Radar Peers Through Polar Ice to Help Predict Future Melting and Movement

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First Posted: Dec 03, 2013 08:14 AM EST
Antarctica
NASA has been monitoring Antarctic and Arctic ice since 2009, an endeavor that has become more important than ever as the ice melts due to climate change. Yet scientists have long been intrigued by the bedrock hidden beneath the thick ice sheets, which could impact how ice moves. Now, IceBridge is collecting data on the aspects of polar ice--everything from the snow above to the bedrock below. (Photo : Flickr)

NASA has been monitoring Antarctic and Arctic ice since 2009, an endeavor that has become more important than ever as the ice melts due to climate change. Yet scientists have long been intrigued by the bedrock hidden beneath the thick ice sheets, which could impact how ice moves--a key factor when making predictions about the future of these massive ice reservoirs. Now, IceBridge is collecting data on the aspects of polar ice--everything from the snow above to the bedrock below.

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IceBridge is currently carrying a suite of radar instruments. One radar instrument in particular is currently headed to Antarctica for another year of observations and may reveal insights about the bedrock hidden beneath the ice sheet.

This bedrock-mapping radar is known as the Multichannel Coherent Radar Depth Sounder or MCoRDS. It measures ice thickness and maps sub-glacial rock by sending radar waves down through thick polar ice. The radio waves themselves are sent out in rapid pulses through an array of downward-pointing antennas mounted beneath the aircraft. This array of multiple antennas allows researchers to survey a larger area and record several signals at once to get a clearer picture.

With this radar, the researchers can build a detailed view of ice sheets and bedrock. The terrain data in particular is helping scientists better understand what's under ice sheets. Already in the past year, researchers have produced new maps of Greenland's and Antarctica's bedrock and have discovered a large and previously undetected canyon under Greenland's ice sheet.

In the future, scientists hope to collect better information on sub-ice terrain. This, in turn, will help researchers develop the next-generation ice sheet models that are needed to project future changes to glaciers, and getter understand the flow of water at ice sheet bases.

Exactly what the future holds, though, remains to be seen. That said, researchers have made great strides in probing polar ice. In the future, the scientists hope to collect further data with Operation IceBridge in order to learn a little bit more about these massive ice sheets. This, in turn, could allow them to better predict sea level rise in the future.

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