RU polar ice research team at work in Alaska
The first wave of an 18-person team from Radford University is measuring ice depth and temperature on the Chukchi Sea near Barrow, Alaska, has begun work.
The team, led by Physics Professor Rhett Herman, is in Alaska through March 15 continuing an eleven-year project to develop a research protocol that will enable scientists to find a correlation between polar sea ice surface temperature and ice depth. If successful, the team will then be closer to answering a key question about the ice cap covering the North Pole: "How big, in terms of volume, is it?"
The expedition is a class, Arctic Geophysics 450, in the College of Science and Technology. Its objective is to investigate the basic characteristics, structure and dynamics of polar sea ice and is an ambitious example of the experiential learning opportunities available to students from all disciplines at RU. The class has been meeting on Saturdays this semester to prepare for the fieldwork and data analysis that will be done on site.
"I am sleeping better now that several things have come together," said Herman. "The team is so ready to go, they are distracted."
The team and its arsenal of geophysical equipment – OhmMapper resistivity arrays, GPS units, infrared thermal sensors and ice drills - is based on the grounds of the former Naval Arctic Research Laboratory. A new item on their research agenda is to test a remote control quad-copter and a T640 FLIR infrared camera in the arctic conditions as a next step in the effort to gather data that will help demonstrate the ability to relate ice surface temperature and ice thickness.
Members of the research team include RU undergraduate physics and geology students and faculty, students and faculty from the Southwest Virginia Governor's School of Math, Science and Technology (SWVGS) and student teachers from RU's School of Teacher Education and Leadership. The first wave, led by Herman and including a pair of SWGS students converged on Barrow from Roanoke, Charlotte, Greensboro and Washington, D.C., on March 1. A shift change will occur the following week as nine RU students will arrive to replace the party's original members.
The expedition will be a baptism-by-ice for deploying Whistler, a thermal sensor unit developed by RU graduate and SWVGS science teacher Dan Blake. Blake, a veteran of several preceding expeditions from RU to Barrow, and SWVGS students created the second-generation infrared temperature sensor after commercial sensors proved unequal to the harsh arctic conditions. Whistler will be walked along the surface acquiring surface temperature data. Whistler's successful deployment could set the stage for the use of the quad-copter as a platform for infrared temperature data collection over a wider range.
"It is a beautiful thing, a piece of engineering genius that will make a critical contribution to our demonstration of a protocol that will help assess the thickness and state of polar ice," said Herman.
From Alaska, two student teachers, led by Instructor of Physical Science Mythianne Shelton, will be using Skype technology to provide live science lessons to K-12 classrooms in Southwest Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland on the research and the challenge of science. The student teachers will also be doing research on the impact of video conferencing on elementary student interest in science as a topic.
Accompanying the expedition will be Jaslyn Gilbert, multi-media producer for the RU Office of Web Strategy and Interactive Media, who will chronicle the expedition's research activities and provide daily video and photography that will be posted on the expedition's website. Their efforts are also being tracked on the CSAT Facebook page.