Understanding the processes that drive large ice sheets in places like Greenland and Antarctica is essential for forecasting the future of climate change and sea level rise. Enter Stanford engineer Thomas Teisberg and the Peregrine autonomous radar drone.
The Peregrine radar drone is equipped with ice-piercing radar, which can collect data miles under the surface.
“This is our tool for understanding what lies underneath the ice, which is one of the most critical inputs to understanding how this ice sheet is going to evolve in the future,” explains Teisberg.
Antennas are installed in the wings, and other equipment are likewise protected from the elements.
Radar drone lowers the cost
The Stanford team recently put the radar drone through its paces in Iceland. They claim that ice-piercing radar has been used for decades but that it is costly to install. They are now hopeful that the drone-based method will enable researchers from all across the globe to monitor vulnerable ice sheets and collect more comprehensive data.
“We reduce the cost of collecting this data dramatically. And we make it so we can collect data more of the time, during the night, in more adverse weather, and we can solve this data gap,” says Teisberg.
Last year, the team covered a NASA Jet Propulsion Lab team that is using aircraft sensors to assess the impact of warming waters on Greenland's ice shelves.
Other researchers are collecting ice sheet data in various regions using a range of methods, including satellite images and ground-based equipment.
“I think there's tremendous value to both real-time data and just data that's sampled more frequently,” explains professor Dustin Schroeder, Ph.D., of the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability. to ABC7 News.
Professor Schroeder is the director of the Stanford Radio Glaciology Research Group and is in charge of the radar drone project, which was developed on the Stanford campus.
Schroeder believes the technique might be used with Artificial Intelligence to improve measuring accuracy across wide regions.
“We know that ice sheets are very dynamic, that their processes evolve far more frequently than once ever, or going back every few decades, or even every year. We know there are processes that take place over the scale of tides, or the scale of seasons or the scale of days. And so the ability to put sensors out there that can capture that fine-tuned timescale is really transformative,” prof. Schroeder explained.
The researchers are specifically interested in Antartica, where a massive ice shelf is close to collapsing.
The unanticipated fissures, according to experts, may release even more ice from the glaciers behind them, leading to sea level rise. And developing methods, such as radar drones, to better understand and anticipate events is becoming more important.
“There's still a lot of uncertainty we could reduce. Exactly how much is going to melt and exactly how fast and there's a lot of value to planners, especially in coastal communities and your critical infrastructure where there might be roads or vulnerable communities,” says Teisberg.
Photos courtesy of Stephan Mantler and ABC7 News.
You can read more stories about drones being used for good on DroneXL.
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