Wales

Wi-fi and sat-nav study on Greenland iceberg formation

The Greenland ice sheet
Image caption The project aims to drop sat-nav sensors and wi-fi transceivers on a Greenland glacier by helicopter

Scientists are to use wi-fi technology to study how Greenland glaciers break up to form icebergs.

They plan to drop sat-nav sensors by helicopter onto a heavily-crevassed glacier to track its path and shape.

Numbers of low-power wi-fi transceivers would continue passing on the data even if some are lost when the glacier breaks up or "calves" to form icebergs.

Researchers at Swansea and Newcastle Universities have an £881,000 grant for the two-year project.

Experts say they still have a poor understanding of how icebergs are formed.

Glaciers at the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet are thought to be particularly sensitive to changes in air and ocean temperatures, with half of them lost in "calving" to create icebergs.

But it has been difficult to collate detailed measurements because of the hostile nature of the terrain, with deep crevasses making it hard to position instruments that may well be lost when the edge of a glacier crumbles.

The project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc) aims to create a network of expendable sat-nav receivers on Helheim Glacier, considered an important calving glacier in south-east Greenland.

Image caption The study of how glaciers break up or "calve" to form icebergs is not fully understood, scientists say

They would be connected to a network of wi-fi transceivers with a "self-organising" design to re-route the data signal even when some fall victim to ice falls.

Professor Tavi Murray, chair in glaciology at Swansea University, said: "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."

Professor Tim O'Farrell from Swansea University's college of engineering added that the use of wireless networks in an extreme environment would assist in the development of the next generation of wireless networks such as mobile phone networks.

The research will take place over the summer of 2012 and 2013.

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