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Polar Radar for Ice Sheet Measurements

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About This Project


Scientists and engineers at the University of Kansas are applying their expertise to develop and utilize innovative radar and robotic rovers to measure ice thickness and determine bedrock conditions below the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. They are doing this through the auspices of a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA. This grant has been named PRISM (Polar Radar for Ice Sheet Measurements).

The Reason

The data collected and the technology developed will enable researchers to do three things: a) determine the presence or absence of a film of water between the ice and the bedrock; b) measure ice thickness and c) map internal layers in both shallow and deep ice. The measurement of water at the bedrock level (basal water) is important because basal water lubricates the ice/bedrock interface and makes it easier for the ice to flow toward the ocean. Data on near-surface internal ice layers will be used to estimate the average, recent accumulation rate, while the deeper layers provide a history of past snow accumulation and flow rates. This combination of data will help earth scientists determine more unambiguously how quickly the polar ice sheets are melting and to make more accurate predictions of the effects of this melting on sea level rise. Scientists have postulated that excess water is being released from polar ice sheets due to long-term, global climate change; but there are insufficient data to confirm these theories. Understanding the interactions between the ice sheets, oceans, and atmosphere is essential to quantifying the role of ice sheets in sea level rise. This, in turn, allows earth scientists to more accurately predict the probability of significant sea level rise. A significant sea level rise would have a devastating impact on world population, agriculture, and ecosystems since nearly 60% of the world's population lives in coastal regions which would become flooded.

The Plan

PRISM scientists plan to use synthetic aperture radar carried on ground level rovers to map the polar ice sheets and the bedrock. Ground-level radar of this type will provide a 2-D picture and more details than have previously been available from satellite imagery and airborne SAR radar. This radar will be able to operate in either monostatic or bistatic mode in order to produce the detail needed by glaciologists. Much of this project will focus on developing new technologies needed to carry out the project. These new technologies include development of an "intelligent" and "collaborative" radar system; that is, one that can look at the data it is generating in real-time, determine if these data indicate that an area should be studied in more detail and then send that information to another radar system which is taking similar measurements only a few kilometers away. PRISM engineers also need to design and build a semiautonomous ground rover capable of: a) withstanding the rigors of the polar environment, b) towing the radar safely and accurately, c) providing power for the radar systems and data analysis systems as well as the rover, and d) keeping track of the exact position of the radar units at all times. PRISM scientists will also be developing a wireless communication system that operates in harsh polar environments to allow the rover and radars to communicate with one another as well as transmit near-real-time data back to other researchers and educators in distant locations.

Additional Aspects

This project also has a strong public outreach and educational program designed for educators and students through alliances with staff from Haskell Indian Nations University and ALTEC (Advanced Learning Technologies). The K-12 outreach will provide educators and students with quick access to educational resources related to: a) polar regions and their inhabitants; b) global weather and climatic change; c) radar; and d) robotics. There will also be near-real-time broadcasts of data from the field. Haskell students and faculty will work with the project by analyzing the data provided by PRISM field teams and transforming the data into maps more easily understood by the general public.

Project Personnel

PRISM (Polar Radar for Ice Sheet Measurement) is based at the University of Kansas Center for Research in Lawrence, Kansas.


Prasad Gogineni - Principal Investigator

Co-Principal Investigators: Drs. David Braaten, Chris Allen, Glenn Prescott, Arvin Agah, Costas Tsatsoulis and Victor Frost


  • Torry Akins, Research Engineer
  • Pannirselvam Kanagaratnam, Research Assistant Professor
  • Kelly Mason, Program Assistant
  • Dennis Sundermeyer, Electronics Technician
  • Jennifer Holvoet, Research Associate Professor

PRISM Students

Graduate students: Eric Akers, David Dunson, Sandhya Gabbur, Gunashekar Jayaraman, John Kostelnick, Abdul Jabbar Mohammad, John Paden, Joel Plummer,Richard Stansbury, Dipen Shah, Amena Kauser Syeda, Sundara Vadivelu, Adrien Yeganeh

Undergraduates: Gamaliel Hood, Kalonie Hulbutta, Mohammad Mofid, Kirby Mullenberg

Other Participants:

Other participants include the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Ohio State University, the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, the University of Chicago, the University of Copenhagen, the Alfred Wegener Institute (Germany), the University of Bristol, the Australian Antarctic Division, and the Phoang Institute of Technology, (Korea).

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In Focus

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New Bears On Ice

The newest adventures of geobears OzGold and Berkley� as they traveled with the PRISM team to Antarctica are now online. Students in grades 2-5 can share the bears� experiences as they travel to New Zealand, McMurdo Station and the WAIS Divide field camp. The feature will be updated with new chapters over the next two weeks.

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Video Gallery

Check out all the Videos from our latest Expedition to Antarctica here


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