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Scientists at two UK universities are planning to use Wi-Fi based network to monitor the flow of glaciers at the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

The sensor network consisting of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receivers and Wi-Fi based relaying nodes will be installed on Helheim Glacier, an important calving glacier in south-east Greenland and will measure changes in the distribution of glacier motion and geometry.

The aim of the project is to improve understanding of how the outlet glaciers at the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet, thought to be particularly sensitive to changes in air and ocean temperatures, react to climate change. The processes leading to iceberg formation or ‘calving’ are particularly important because they control mass loss from the ice sheet but are poorly understood.

Detailed observations of iceberg calving events have until now proved elusive due to the difficulty of positioning instrumentation on the heavily-crevassed ice surface and for the reason that sensors would be lost during iceberg calving. To combat this problem, researchers at Swansea and Newcastle Universities have joined forces to create a network of expendable GPS based receivers.

According to Dr Stuart Edwards from Newcastle University’s Geomatics Group and a graduate of Swansea University, software they have developed in Newcastle will allow the GNSS receivers to provide measurements accurate to a few centimetres.

According to Professor Tim O’Farrell from Swansea University’s College of Engineering, these sensors will be connected to each other and to a base station via a network of expendable, low-power wireless transceivers and deployed on the Helheim Glacier. A proportion of the network’s nodes are expected to be lost during each calving event. However, the novel ‘self-organizing” design of the network ensures that data can still be collected from the nodes that remain operational.

The innovative nature of the network and its components make it economically and logistically possible to deploy a large number of sensors by a helicopter in the heavily crevassed calving region of the glacier.

In addition, the use of wireless networks in an extreme environment will assist in the development of the next generation of wireless networks such as mobile phone networks.

The research project will be undertaken during two summer field seasons in 2012 and 2013.

More info here.


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