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West Antarctica to be Covered With Scientific Instruments:  Network to Keep Watch Through the Dark

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COLUMBUS, Ohio—In a mission of unprecedented scale, scientists are about to cover West Antarctica with a network of sensors to monitor the interactions between the ice and the earth below—24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) just awarded the collaboration, called POLENET, $4.5 million to plant global positioning system (GPS) trackers and seismic sensors on the bedrock that cradles the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). Lead institution Ohio State University will receive more than $2.2 million, and the rest will be divided among partners in the United States as part of an International Polar Year project.

As scientists have tried to understand how climate change is affecting the WAIS, they have long wished they could gather information from the entire region, explained POLENET leader Terry Wilson. But Antarctica contains the coldest and windiest sites on the planet—locations inhospitable to scientific instruments and the scientists who would deploy them. 

In a presentation Tuesday, December 11, 2007 at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco , she described how her team will overcome the harsh environment. They’ll fly ski-equipped aircraft to remote locations, and plant rugged instruments that will send signals back to the United States via satellite. 

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