JUL 17, 2021 8:30 AM PDT

Solar Radio Signals Improve Monitoring of Melting Ice Sheets

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Solar radio signals from the sun could provide a cheaper and low-power way of monitoring vast expanses of ice sheets, and how their changes may influence sea-level rise. The study was published in Geophysical Research Letters by researchers from Stanford University, the University of Cambridge, and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. 

Currently, researchers rely on airborne ice-penetrating radars to collect information about the polar subsurface. This often involves flying planes over ice sheets that transmit active radar signals to the ice below. While effective, the method is resource-intensive and only captures information relevant to the time of the flight. 

The new method for studying ice sheets involves a battery-powered receiver with an antenna placed on the targeted ice sheet. This antenna detects the sun's radio waves as they travel towards Earth and how they travel beneath the surface of the ice. Extensive deployment of this method could give researchers access to the Earth's polar subsurface like never before, say the scientists. 

"Our goal is to chart a course for the development of low-resource sensor networks that can monitor subsurface conditions on a really wide scale," said lead author of the study, Sean Peters. "That could be challenging with active sensors, but this passive technique gives us the opportunity to really take advantage of low-resource implementations."

To learn about ice sheets from interpreting the sun's radio waves, the researchers take snippets of the sun's radioactivity and listen for unique echos that indicate when solar radio waves bounce off the bottom of an ice sheet. Examining the delay between the original recording and any echos allows the researchers to calculate the thickness of different ice sheets. 

So far, they have tested their new method on Store Glacier in West Greenland. The echo delay time there was around 11 microseconds, translating into an ice thickness of around 3,000 feet. These measurements match those from the same site by both ground-based and airborne radars. 

The idea to use passive radio waves to assess ice sheets was inspired by study co-author Andrew Romero-Wolf, a researcher with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who thought similar methods could be used to investigate Jupiter's icy moons. In discussing it with colleagues, he realized the methods could also be used to observe Earth's ice sheets. 

"Pushing the frontiers of sensing technology for planetary research has enabled us to push the frontiers of sensing technology for climate change," said Dustin Schroeder, senior author of the study. "Monitoring ice sheets under climate change and exploring icy moons at the outer planets are both extremely low-resource environments where you really need to design elegant sensors that don't require a lot of power."

 

Sources: Geophysical Research LettersEurekAlert

About the Author
  • Annie Lennon is a writer whose work also appears in Medical News Today, Psych Central, Psychology Today, and other outlets. When she's not writing, she is COO of Xeurix, an HR startup that assesses jobfit from gamified workplace simulations.
You May Also Like
JUL 23, 2021
Earth & The Environment
RNA Alterations Boost Potato and Rice Crop Yields by 50%
JUL 23, 2021
RNA Alterations Boost Potato and Rice Crop Yields by 50%
Manipulating RNA could increase rice and potato crop yields by over 50%, according to a group of researchers from the Un ...
JUL 25, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Fungal Pathogens Can Grow on Microplastics
JUL 25, 2021
Fungal Pathogens Can Grow on Microplastics
Microplastics are being found throughout our world; they're in the oceans, in soil, and in our bodies, among other place ...
AUG 03, 2021
Plants & Animals
Teeth Record Life's Stressful Events in Primates
AUG 03, 2021
Teeth Record Life's Stressful Events in Primates
New research suggests stressful physical and social events leave permenant lines on your teeth.
AUG 15, 2021
Plants & Animals
The Killer Instinct of a Dainty Flower is Finally Exposed
AUG 15, 2021
The Killer Instinct of a Dainty Flower is Finally Exposed
The exotic Venus flytrap is a famous carnivorous plant that's easy to identify. But it seems that another carnivorous pl ...
AUG 22, 2021
Microbiology
Morbillivirus in Fraser's Dolphins May Infect Other Marine Mammals
AUG 22, 2021
Morbillivirus in Fraser's Dolphins May Infect Other Marine Mammals
Scientists are concerned about a virus they've recently identified in Fraser's dolphins. Though the disease has already ...
SEP 24, 2021
Earth & The Environment
We've Killed Half the World's Coral
SEP 24, 2021
We've Killed Half the World's Coral
A recent study published in One Earth on Sep. 17 paints a poor picture for the state of the world’s coral reefs. L ...
Loading Comments...