Cody Howard
School of Engineering

Grant to aid advances in remote sensing tools for climate change

Fri, 01/31/2014

LAWRENCE — A team of researchers from the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) at the University of Kansas has received a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to develop technology that better maps and tracks the conditions within glaciers and at the bottom of fast-flowing ice sheets.

Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering Shawn Keshmiri will lead efforts on the nearly $200,000 one-year grant. The project will enable engineers at KU to develop two small, unmanned aerial systems (UASs) that can be equipped with dual low-frequency sounding/imaging radars. CReSIS research focuses on predicting future sea level rise based on the effect of climate change on the polar ice sheets. Key to this effort is creating accurate and detailed maps of the glaciers, from their surface to the bedrock.

“We believe that this partnership with the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation will enable us to expand the use of unmanned aerial systems technology and dramatically improve Arctic observing capabilities," Keshmiri said. "By providing the resources to build small UASs that can be equipped with miniaturized HF/VHF radar sounders, the foundation will enable us to take the first step toward testing distributed sensors in coordinated flight in order to better measure and characterize the impact of climate changes on fast-flowing glaciers."

The research conducted at CReSIS meshes with the mission of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. 

“The Foundation is eager to understand more about climate and polar ice change. We believe the development of new technologies is critical to creating that new knowledge,” said Susan Coliton, vice president of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. “The proposal from Dr. Keshmiri will give us insight by studying those glaciers that are the most difficult to measure, and this work, if successful, could be transformative to the field.”

The KU research aims to solve challenges that arise when using radar to collect data from a fast-flowing glacial surface or from the bottom of a temperate glacier, which are glaciers that remain at melting point from surface to base throughout the year.

“These new vehicles have the potential to decrease operational cost and reduce the environmental impact of remote sensing compared to current methodology,” Keshmiri said. “The support of the foundation will not only enable us to develop the technology necessary to produce a new generation of ice sheet models, it will also enable us to test platforms envisioned to use less fuel and produce fewer emissions in the process."

The unmanned aerial systems will enable researchers to study two particularly challenging aspects of a glacier. At the surface, fast-flowing glaciers are heavily crevassed, extremely rough, and contain debris and water. Throughout the entire depth of temperate ice sheets, water pockets exist. Both conditions scatter radar signals, which mask weak echoes from the ice bed, leading to incomplete or inaccurate imaging from the bedrock.

Because the radar signal is scattered by conditions within a glacier and at the surface, radars must be designed to overcome two types of scatter. This means they must use a narrow antenna beam in intersecting lines along the surface, and they must operate at low frequencies. This can only be accomplished with multiple unmanned aerial systems operating in a synchronized group.

“Support from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation will enable our interdisciplinary teams in radar sensor and unmanned airborne platform development to pursue a higher risk, but potentially transformative approach to polar remote sensing,” said Rick Hale, associate professor of aerospace engineering and associate director of technology at CReSIS. “The potential is truly exciting, and the challenge is grand.”

CReSIS was 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. Data collected through CReSIS technologies have helped uncover a massive canyon buried under miles of ice in Greenland and provided an updated, more detailed topographic map of Antarctica under its blanket of ice.

About The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation

Launched by Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen and Jo Lynn Allen in 1988, the Allen family’s philanthropy is dedicated to transforming lives and strengthening communities by fostering innovation, creating knowledge and promoting social progress. Since its inception, the foundation has awarded over $475 million to more than 1,400 nonprofit groups to support and advance their critical charitable endeavors in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. The foundation’s funding programs nurture the arts, engage children in learning, address the needs of vulnerable populations, advance scientific and technological discoveries, and provide economic relief amid the downturn. For more information, click here

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Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.

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