The University of Southampton

Exploring the effect of climate change on Arctic ice

Published: 11 November 2016
Ice front

An international electric car championship has teamed up with Southampton researchers, including a Web and Internet Science (WAIS) professor, to explore the effect of climate change on the Arctic ice sheet.

Formula E, a global FIA race that only uses electric-powered cars, is working with Professor Kirk Martinez, from Electronics and Computer Science, and Professor Jane Hart, from Geography and Environment, to understand how climate change is affecting glaciers and their break up into icebergs.

The innovative collaboration has already successfully planted a tracking device on an iceberg off the coast of Greenland that has enabled the researchers to monitor the iceberg’s journey in real time.

Since the tracker was placed in the summer, researchers have been able to follow the iceberg down the coast of Greenland and are gaining greater understanding of the way these iceberg movements can contribute to rising sea levels.

Formula E has now committed a £25,000 donation to further develop this research.

Kirk said: “We are studying glacier response to climate change using an interconnected sensor system that monitors glacier retreat. This retreat is partly controlled by water from the glacier surface melting and allowing glacier sliding, and the information we gather from our research will help us predict future melt rates.

“This donation from Formula E will allow us to use the latest technology to investigate this glacier melting and velocity by devising smart GPS units that can be trialled on a set of glaciers in Iceland.

“The melting and movement of glaciers varies around the globe – some move a few metres a year, while others cover the same distance in a matter of days. Iceland provides a wide range of glaciers in one study area, so by positioning these low-cost, networkable positioning systems on these glaciers we will be able to access their data by satellite or radio links on a daily basis.”

Jane, a Professor in Geography, added: “Climate change and its effects require considerable technological advances in order for us to understand and counter them. This new donation means we will be able to monitor glacier activity for a year, analysing the resulting information to better understand glacier response to climate change.

“It will also enable us to develop robust sensing systems that could be used to monitor other remote environments. The exchange of information between ourselves and Formula E will benefit not only our research but also the public understanding of science and technology.”

This project builds on previous research carried out by the pair in Iceland and the Cairngorm Mountains that used cutting-edge sensing technology to study the environment. They implemented innovative combinations of technologies from the Internet of Things (IoT) – smart Internet connected devices - in a sensor network system to develop a concept for environmental sensing in remote mountain settings.

Funded by a £174,000 technology proof of concept grant from Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the pair worked with colleagues at the University of Dundee on the year-long project in the Cairngorms observing hydrological peatland and frozen ground processes.

Kirk said: “IoT inspired sensor networks offer a revolutionary new way of investigating the environment. By embedding sensors into the landscape, many remote or hazardous environments can be measured live for the first time throughout the whole year.”

To find out more about the iceberg tracking research, visit the team's Glacsweb website

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