Sensing glaciers

In the first investigation of its kind in the world, the University of Southampton‘s interdisciplinary GLACSWEB team is recording glacier behaviour through a network of sensor probes installed directly into the glacier.

The GLACSWEB project is aiming to understand glacier dynamics and climatic change, as well as making advances in pervasive sensor networks. The GLACSWEB team, led by Dr. Jane Hart, Dr. Kirk Martinez and Dr. Royan Ong, installed the sensor network last summer at the Briksdalsbreen glacier in Norway.

‘The aim of the Glacsweb project is to study climate change through its effects on glaciers,’ said Kirk Martinez of the School of Electronics and Computer Science.

‘We are using “Subglacial Probes” beneath a glacier, communicating to the surface via radio links. They contain various sensors and their position and orientation is sensed by the surface system. This is the first time wireless probes have been put inside glaciers and it involves many challenges. The systems must feed data back to a server in the UK and contend with communication loss, power loss, noise and bad weather!’ he added.

The probes are installed in the sedimentary base of the glacier, about 60 metres under the surface through the use of a powerful hot water drill. They record temperature, pressure, speed and movement of the ice, and more importantly of the sediments at its base.

The probes emit signals carrying the data, which are relayed back to a base station on the glacier surface by radio communications, and then transmitted to Southampton by mobile phone.