KU News Release

April 12, 2011
Contact: Brendan M. Lynch, University Relations, 785-864-8858

Cooperation deepens between preeminent groups researching Greenland ice sheets

LAWRENCE — The Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets, based at the University of Kansas, will play a key role in helping the North Greenland Eemian Ice Drilling project, based at the University of Copenhagen, find the best site for its next decade-long ice-coring venture.

CReSIS will contribute radar analysis of the ice sheets to the NEEM group to pin down a location with unspoiled ice from the Eemian, an interglacial period that started 130,000 years ago and ended roughly 114,000 years ago when temperatures worldwide ran 5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit higher than at present.

“What happened during the Eemian may be an analogue to what is going to happen to us in a warming climate,” said Prasad Gogineni, the Dean E. Ackers Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at KU and CReSIS director. “So we’re trying to understand the climate history during that period.”

Finding a suitable site to extract a core of Eemian ice is of critical importance. Each ice coring effort takes about 10 years, and melting or distorted ice near the layers associated with the Eemian period can render fruitless the decade-long coring work. CReSIS radar soundings could enable NEEM locate pristine Eemian ice.

“One of the goals is to find undisturbed Eemian ice in a deep core,” Gogineni said. “The University of Copenhagen group has fantastic expertise at deep ice cores and interpreting those cores. We at KU have developed an excellence in radar sounding and imaging of ice sheets. So they will use our data to find the best possible site, and also use the data to interpret the climate history and flow dynamics of the ice.”

By studying stable water isotopes and air bubbles trapped in the ice, the NEEM group, headed by Professor Dorthe Dahl-Jensen, director of the University of Copenhagen’s Centre of Ice and Climate, hopes to predict what the future may hold for a warmer Earth as climate change intensifies.

“The Eemian period was warmer over Greenland and warmer globally, so this is the perfect period to study,” said Dahl-Jensen. “What we can learn from this period is how big the ice sheet was. How warm was it? And if we know how much the ice sheet was reduced, we can relate that to sea level rise at that time. All of this information will help us to predict the future of sea level rise over the next 1,000 years.”

But NEEM’s attempts to achieve insight into the Eemian period have been frustrating: Past Eemian cores extracted by the group have been spoiled by geothermal heat and distortion of the ice. Because the logistics of hauling the massive drilling equipment over the Greenland ice sheet are daunting, the group will rely heavily on CReSIS radar data to find intact Eemian ice before relocating.

“To get the perfect Greenland record, we definitely have to have the radar observations in place, and CRESIS is going to play the most important role,” said NEEM’s Jørgen Peder Steffensen, associate professor at the University of Copenhagen’s Centre of Ice and Climate. “The times are over where you can pinpoint the drilling location by taking a dart and shooting it on the Greenland ice sheet and saying, ‘This is where were going to drill.’ We have to be much more precise, as it has unfortunately turned out. It’s actually very difficult to find the right site, it’s like the needle in the haystack.”

CReSIS is a Science and Technology Center established by the National Science Foundation in 2005, with the mission of developing new technologies and computer models to measure and predict the response of sea level change to the mass balance of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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