USC research hits new heights on NZ glacier

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USC research hits new heights on NZ glacier


Published on 17 June 2014

Radar technology developed by USC researchers has been used to pioneer the measurement of ice thickness on a glacier in New Zealand’s Southern Alps.

USC Lecturer in Science and Engineering Dr Adrian McCallum said Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), adapted at the University to meet the icy conditions, helped gather important new data on the Bonar Glacier.

Dr McCallum, who has previously conducted glaciology in the Arctic and Antarctica, said the challenging conditions faced by his team included 120km/h winds, deeply-crevassed terrain and steep climbs while carrying 30kg packs.

He said the expedition had relied on strong technical support from USC-based staff.

“We have GPR at the University that we’ve used to detect structural variations beneath the ground surface in a number of locations,” Dr McCallum said.

“However, we knew it wouldn’t penetrate the ice in the glacier, so we built our own lower-frequency radar at USC.”

He said the GPR transmitted a pulse into the ice and its thickness could be estimated by timing how long the pulse took to reflect off bedrock and return to the surface.

“This provided us with data on the thickness of the Bonar Glacier from which we could estimate an ice velocity. We could then compare this with the velocity estimated by measuring the changing position of markers on the glacier’s surface.”

“This information can contribute to our knowledge of whether the glacier is gaining or losing mass over time, and whether it is speeding up or slowing down.”

Dr McCallum said his research findings would be added to a New Zealand database on glacier characteristics and would also contribute to climate change research.

His Bonar Glacier expedition was supported by a USC Office of Research Grant and by collaborators from Sweden and Canada who assisted in the radar development.

– David Cameron

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