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GLACSWEB probes face new challenge in Tijuana

Published: 16 October 2009

The GLACSWEB project has entered a new phase with a planned deployment of its electronic sensors in the Los Laureles Canyon in Mexico.

GLACSWEB has been using the sensors – custom-engineered and built in the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton – to monitor glacier movements in response to climate change since 2003. Led by Dr Kirk Martinez of the ECS Intelligence, Agents, Multimedia group, and Professor Jane Hart of the School of Geography, the GLACSWEB team first deployed the sensors on the Briksdalsbreen glacier in Norway. The project has aimed to understand glacier dynamics and climatic change, and to make advances in pervasive sensor networks.

Probes have been 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. Signals emitted by the probes at noon each day carry 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. The data is available to researchers.

Large amounts of data were collected by the sensors, but the rapid melting of Briksdalsbreen meant that the glacier became too steep and dangerous to work on, so the project moved to Iceland, to the Skalafellsjokull glacier, part of the giant Vatnajokull icecap. Having successfully overcome many of the technical and logistical difficulties of collecting such critical data, the probes will now be deployed in completely different environment – the Los Laureles Canyon in Mexico, upstream from the Tijuana estuary.

Six sensors will record environmental data over the next two years, in a project funded by the US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in the hope that data on changes in the canyon could provide early warning of landslides.

‘A combination of technologies has made environmental sensor webs possible,’ says Dr Martinez. ‘These will eventually be spread around the world and will give us a clearer picture of exactly how we are changing our environment. In order to make successful sensor networks, issues such as: communications, low-power, robustness and adaptability have been approached through a combination of mechanical engineering, electronics, computer science and environmental science.’

See recent coverage of GLACSWEB on the BBC web site.

See GLACSWEB publications on EPrints.

For further information contact Joyce Lewis; tel.+44(0)23 8059 5453.

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