Jill Hummels
Office of the Provost

NASA grant will help KU researcher reveal polar ice details

Wed, 07/23/2014

LAWRENCE — Researchers working to measure and predict sea level rise based on changes to ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica will soon have a new tool to use in their assessments. 

Jilu Li, assistant research professor with the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) at the University of Kansas, received a three-year $299,178 grant through NASA’s New Investigator Program to provide a complete subsurface map at the point where the ice meets bedrock for Greenland and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Li’s team will utilize ice sheet data collected by CReSIS and KU researchers over the past two decades to piece together the maps.

“We’ve collected all this data, but to this point, no one has integrated all of it to provide a basal condition map,” Li said. “When combined with what we already know about ice sheet thickness and ice bed elevations, this should improve the understanding of the overall dynamics of the ice sheet and help better predict future changes.”

The condition at the base of an ice sheet varies from solid ice, to melting ice, to flowing water and has a major impact on the speed of the ice flow. The faster the ice flows, the more it affects sea level rise.

“These maps essentially provide a more accurate picture of the full boundary conditions of an ice sheet,” Li said. “It means more information is available to researchers as they utilize computer modeling to predict ice flow. The more that’s known about the entire boundary conditions of an ice sheet, the more accurate those models will be.”

Li’s research was one of only 21 projects selected for funding from a pool of more than 131 proposals.

CReSIS, which was established by the National Science Foundation in 2005, has made great strides in research and fieldwork concerning changes in the ice sheets and their effect on sea level rise. Data collected by the Center were instrumental in developing a new, highly detailed map of the bedrock of Greenland. CReSIS data were also essential to the discovery of a mega-canyon buried under miles of ice in Greenland. Portions of the canyon are twice as deep at the Grand Canyon.

KU serves as the lead institution of CReSIS, which is composed of six additional partner institutions: Elizabeth City State University, Indiana University, University of Washington, Pennsylvania State University, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Association of Computer and Information Science Engineering Departments at Minority Institutions. CReSIS researchers collaborate with scientists, engineers and institutions around the world. 

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