Dr. Lora Koenig and Team to Use CReSIS Sled in West Antarctica


By Shawn Schaller
Fall 2011

A few new faces will be riding along the CReSIS radar sled this winter.

NASA’s Dr. Lora Koenig, Dr. Ludovic Brucker of the Goddard Space Flight Center, and Ph.D. candidate Clément Miège of the University of Utah visited CReSIS headquarters at the University of Kansas from Sept. 21 to Sept. 23, 2011. During their visit, the three familiarized themselves with one of the CReSIS radar sleds and two CReSIS radar systems: the Ku-band radar and the snow radar, both of which they will bring along on their upcoming traverse across Antarctica.

Beginning in late November, Koenig, Brucker, Miège and three others will undertake the Satellite Era Accumulation Traverse (SEAT). The group will spend approximately six weeks, from Nov. 21, 2011, to Jan. 7, 2012, traveling across West Antarctica with the CReSIS sled and radar equipment, collecting radar returns from different ice layers along the way. The team will also dig for ice cores to analyze the accumulation layers.

At first glance, the CReSIS radar sled appears to be a triangular, pyramid-shaped metal frame mounted on three snowboards. It holds two bistatic radar systems, each with two antennas mounted, facing down, on a horizontal bar that hangs out and away from the rest of the pyramid frame. Not built for comfort, the sled contains a single platform upon which a radar operator stands next to a red encasement housing the radar equipment. The sled is pulled across the snow by a snowmobile, which a second person operates. It is important to switch between operating the radar and driving the snowmobile during a radar surveying day to give the person operating the radar sans gloves a break. Checking the radar signals on the laptop is a difficult-to-impossible task while wearing big mitts, and there are days when the temperatures falls far below 0⁰C.

Radar sled

Koenig, Brucker and Miège familiarize themselves with the CReSIS radar sled in Nichols Hall.

At the beginning of the mission, approximately one week will be spent in McMurdo Station, Antarctica to assemble the complex radar sled and prepare and test the radar equipment. From there, the team will fly to Byrd Station, located on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), on a C-130 and spend the entire month of December traversing the WAIS divide region before flying back to McMurdo Station at the end of December.

“Hopefully if the traverse is going well this year, we will spend New Year’s in McMurdo,” Miège said. The team is well aware that during this kind of expedition, the weather will play an important role and delays could arise. All that’s left to do is wish them good luck on this Antarctic expedition!