Wireless sensor to monitor glaciers

Bristol University scientists have been awarded £225,000 to develop a wireless sensor that will monitor ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic for the effects of climate change.

The two-year project will develop an autonomous capsule, dubbed Cryo-Egg, which will be placed on the bed of ice sheets. It will return data from the bottom of the ice sheets to scientists on the surface as it monitors this largely uncharted landscape.

‘The engineering challenges for Cryo-Egg are vast,’ said project leader Dr Jemma Wadham, from the university’s School of Geographical Sciences. ‘In addition to the need to survive crushing by ice and extreme cold, the probe must be able to communicate with scientists on the surface through kilometres of ice. This will be the first goal of the project and is the focus of the current funding.’

Glacial ice deforms and slides over its bed, a scenario that makes a probe linked by cables impractical.

Prof Ian Craddock, from the university’s Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering Centre for Communications Research, said: ‘Trying to communicate data through several kilometres of glacial ice is a major technical challenge. It will require highly novel solutions using a suite of communications technologies, along with innovative methods to unscramble the data.’

This multidisciplinary collaboration between glaciologists, Earth scientists and engineers at the university aims to overcome the immense technical challenges involved. 

The data transmitted back will help them understand one of the most important processes associated with climate warming.