Innovative Imaging of Changing Ice Sheets in Antarctica

New York, NY, United States of America
over 3 years
Project Location: 
Project Goals: 

The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) at Columbia University is one of the world’s leading research centers seeking fundamental knowledge about the origin, evolution and future of the natural world. From global climate change to volcanoes, non-renewable resources and beyond, Observatory scientists provide data for the difficult choices facing humankind in stewarding the planet, one of the most pressing of these is the question of how fast sea levels will rise in the coming years. Accurate predictions of future rates of sea level rise are essential if society is to adapt, but current computer models that simulate the behavior of ice sheets and glaciers (potential key contributors to sea level rise) are missing input on a number of important processes that influence how huge ice sheets change. In Antarctica, these unknowns exist on the surface and underneath: lakes as large as the state of New Jersey have been discovered beneath the surface as have reservoirs that drain and fill over the course of a year, moving the surface of the ice sheet up and down by as much as 45 feet in elevation.

This three year grant from the Tinker Foundation provides matching funds (with monies from the National Science Foundation) for LDEO to develop an ice imaging system that will provide more accurate data sets for understanding ice sheet behavior and for predictive modeling. IcePod is designed to be a shared, community research instrument that will provide both new and repeated measurements on the surface of the polar ice sheets, on the nature of the underlying ice sheet bed, and on changes in ice sheet elevation and subsurface conditions. Previous remote sensing of Antarctica was accomplished, in large part, by costly satellites that do not provide the level of detail or frequency of observation required for more exact analysis and are about to reach their end-of-life. By contrast, icePod has been integrated into the doorway of an LC-130 Hercules aircraft and will travel over Antarctica more than 60 times a year as part of the New York Air National Guard's re-gular resupply missions to the continent.

The enhanced capabilities of the icePod imaging system will enable measurement of surface elevation changes in selected areas of Antarctica, monitoring of the impact of dynamic sub-glacial lakes on surface elevation of outlet glacier areas, take ice sheet surface temperatures and provide robust near-surface measurements (leading to unique insights into the key question of how fast Antarctica is warming), enhance capacity to measure ice thickness measurement capacity and provide images of water distribution at the base of the glaciers at a level of detail not previously available.

Project Director: 
Robin Bell