Expedition will validate satellite measurements of the Antarctic ice sheet

Ian Brown, Associate professor in Earth Observation at Stockholm University, leads a research team during the expedition DML 2021/22.

Ian Brown, Associate professor in Earth Observation at Stockholm University, leads one of two research groups that will conduct an expedition in Queen Maud Land, Antarctica, starting in December. The goal is to better understand the uncertainty in satellite measurements of the ice sheet is and what it depends on.

Can you tell us about the research you are going to carry out in Antarctica?

– We will implement a snow measurement program to validate satellite measurements of the ice sheet. Our program aims to better understand how great the uncertainty is in satellite measurements and why.

Which places are you investigating, why have you chosen these particular places?

– We will start with day trips on the ice sheet near the research station Wasa. We can reach places about 100 km from the station with the help of snowmobiles. Then we will make a trip out on the ice sheet for five to seven days as we will spend the night in the middle of the ice between the stations Wasa and Svea and we will also be at Svea for one or two nights. We choose the locations based on where satellite measurements are taken. We want a wide choice of places that are both close to the coast and inland.

 Are there any particular challenges in collecting data in Antarctica?

– We are very dependent on the weather and are limited in where we can go due to the long distance between the stations and the risk of glacier cracks. In addition, it is, of course, cold, windy and we are isolated. The isolation means that if something breaks or stops working, we cannot google solutions or replace with new parts.

"Large-scale melting will have global consequences"

What makes Antarctica a relevant place for research?

– Antarctica is large with few visitors and there is a small number of research or measuring stations, such as weather stations. We know relatively little about how the continent will be affected by global warming in the coming decades such as when and to what extent large-scale melting will occur.

Why is research necessary?

– East Antarctica is the world's largest freshwater reservoir in the form of the largest glaciers. These can probably affect sea levels more than anything else if they start to melt away from the outer edge. Large-scale melting will have global consequences. Therefore, it is very important that we monitor East Antarctica and have careful methods to be able to do so.

What are you most looking forward to with the expedition?

– Scientifically, I look forward to the measurements and analysis of data. Personally, I look forward to working in a more or less untouched place with a small research team that shares the same goals and motivations.

Have you visited Antarctica before?

– No, although I have been to many glaciers, large and small.

 Who funds the research?

– We have received support from the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat, who is responsible for all logistical support, including housing, transport, and technical support in Antarctica. The Swedish National Space Agency supports the research, which is part of an ongoing project at the agency on satellite measurements of snow. Stockholm University, the University of Gävle, Luleå University of Technology and the Bolin Centre for Climate Research have also contributed. We are very grateful for all the support.

"To make good decisions and understand future climate change, we need accurate and reliable data"

Finally, is there anything you want to add?

– To make good decisions and understand future climate change, we need accurate and reliable data. Data is important not only for researchers but also for authorities, decision-makers, and the public. Open information and open research with peer review are important for democracy.

Publishing date: 01 Nov 2021