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NASA to Send Red-planet Rover on Greenland Journey

May 3, 2013
Nuussuaq, the capital of Greenland, with Sermitsiaq Mountain in background (photo: Oliver Schauf, Creative Commons)

A NASA rover was due to begin roaming the frigid landscape of Greenland next week, collecting data to help scientists better understand changes in the massive ice sheet, an agency spokeswoman said Friday.

The robot carries what NASA described as "ground-penetrating radar" to study how snow accumulates layer by layer to form the ice sheet, the agency said.

For the past six months NASA's Mars rover has made headlines with its exploration of the surface of the Red Planet since landing there in August. The rover on Greenland has been nicknamed GROVER - an acronym that stands for Greenland (or Goddard) Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research.

Scientists expect GROVER to detect the layer of the ice sheet that formed in the aftermath of an extreme melt that took place last summer when higher-than-normal temperatures caused surface melting across about 97 per cent of the ice sheet, NASA said in a news release.

"Robots like GROVER will give us a new tool for glaciology studies," said Lora Koenig, a glaciologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and science advisor on the project.

GROVER was developed by teams of students at summer engineering intensive study camps at Goddard. A second robot called Cool Robot and developed at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire will join it in June bringing more instruments to conduct glaciological and atmospheric sampling.

The robot is powered entirely by solar energy panels that collect energy from the sun and sunlight reflected off the ice sheet. Its ground-penetrating radar sends radio wave pulses into the ice sheet, and the waves bounce off buried features, informing researchers about the characteristics of the snow and ice layers.

GROVER will start exploring at a spot where the ice sheet is about 3 kilometres thick. From there it will crawl at an average speed of 2 kilometers per hour. The exploration is scheduled to last through June 8.

Research with polar rovers costs less than aircraft or satellites, which are the conventional methods for exploring such environments.

Initially, Koenig's team will communicate with the robot via Wi-Fi. The researchers eventually will switch to satellite communications.

Koenig hopes more radar data will help shed light on Greenland's snow accumulation. Scientists compare annual accumulation to the volume of ice lost to sea each year to calculate the ice sheet's overall mass balance and its contribution to sea level rise.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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