Wi-fi and sat-nav for Greenland iceberg study

Scientists are set to use wi-fi technology to study how glaciers in Greenland break up to form icebergs. The satellite navigation sensors will be dropped onto the rapidly decreasing glaciers by helicopter so their shape and path can be tracked.

The wi-fi transceivers, which need only a small amount of power to operate, will continue to transmit data even if the part of the glacier they are on calves off to form an iceberg. It is hoped the study will reveal previously scarce details about how the floating ice mountains are created.

Half of the glaciers at the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet, which is particularly sensitive to air and sea temperature changes, split up to form icebergs. Due to deep crevasses and the crumbling nature of the terrain making it tricky to plant instruments, however, it has previously been difficult to collate accurate measurements of how the process occurs.

The two-year project is being run by researchers at Newcastle and Swansea Universities, who have been given a GBP 881,000 grant to bankroll the project from the Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc). The expendable sat-nav receivers will be positioned on the Helheim Glacier, which is considered to be the most important in southeast Greenland.

Professor Tavi Murray, chair in glaciology at Swansea University, told the BBC, “To discover more about calving at the margins of tidewater glaciers, we need to know what the primary mechanisms are.

“Only then can the relevant processes be represented in computer models of the ice sheet and its outlet glaciers, allowing us to improve our predictions of how they will respond to climate change and the ice sheet’s contribution to sea-level rise.”