Scientists studying the behavior of the world's ice sheets — and the future implications of ice sheet behavior for global sealevel rise — may soon have a new airborne tool that will allow radar measurements that previously would have been prohibitively expensive or difficult to carry out with manned aircraft.
University of Kansas researchers have successfully tested the use of a compact radar system integrated on a small, lightweight Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) to look through the ice and map the topography underlying rapidly moving glaciers. The measurements were the first-ever successful sounding of glacial ice with a UAS-based radar. If further tests in the Arctic prove as successful, the UAS could eventually be routinely deployed to measure rapidly changing areas of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.
The vast polar ice sheets hold an enormous amount of the Earth's freshwater — so much so that in the unlikely event of a sudden melt, global sea level would rise on the order of 216 feet. Even a fraction of the melt, and the associated sealevel rise, would cause severe problems to people living in more temperate areas of the globe.
Until now, the lack of fine-resolution information about the topography underlying fast-flowing glaciers, which contain huge amounts of freshwater and which govern the flow of the interior ice, makes it difficult to model their behavior accurately.