UAV Will Peer Underneath Glaciers For Water
Researchers in Kansas are building an unmanned aircraft, to
better map and understand Antarctic and Greenland ice-sheet
Carrying ground-penetrating radar, the Meridian Unmanned Aerial
Vehicle is designed to peer beneath the glacier to see if any water
lies between it and the ground. This information is critical in
predicting when the ice might slip off into the ocean and causing
ocean levels to rise.
Using a UAV for this mapping work will cut the risk to human
pilots, who can fly only limited missions. It will also speed
up the mapping process.
"We can cut costs for large-scale mapping projects, increase the
range, and reduce dangers," said University of Kansas associate
professor of aerospace engineering and team leader Rick Hale.
The radar Meridian will carry was developed by the university
and other institutions and can provide detailed pictures of ice
layers specifically the space between the bottom of the glacier and
the ground, according to the MIT Technology Review.
"Basically, our radar can see deeper, and with better
resolution, than any of the other competitors out there at the
moment," says Claude Laird, a University of Kansas research
The 125 pound radar unit beams signals through the ice at
several frequencies, then analyzes the time of the signals' return
for a clear picture of ice and rock surface contours, water packets
and subsurface ice layers.
Laird put the radar through its paces this summer during an
overland expedition in Greenland to select a site for a
future ice-core drilling expedition.
The plane is designed to fly in conditions and low altitudes
that would prove hazardous to a human pilot.
The UAV will have three means of communication -- remote control
for takeoffs and landings, radio-frequency communications, for the
times it is near a base camp, and satellite communications, for the
times it is as far away as 372 miles from a base camp.
The UAV's wingspan of 26 feet will have de-icing abilities. The
aircraft will also sport heaters to protect the electronic systems
from the extreme cold.
Meridian is scheduled to make its maiden flight on Greenland in
the summer of 2008. Providing all goes well, it will then be put to
work during the Antarctic summer later on in the year, said