NASA offers grant for glacier study

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Geologist Umesh Haritashya won a NASA grant to study a new type of data from Airborne Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) that will help scientists better detect and understand glaciers. Here are three things to know about his work:

1. It will help NASA understand data from a satellite it will launch in 2022

NASA and the Indian Space Research Organization are preparing to launch the NISAR satellite — created to get an “unprecedented, detailed view of Earth” using advanced radar imaging.

NASA’s goal is to study “hazards and global environmental change.” Haritashya’s work is important for understanding how scientists can use the ASAR data that will be collected by the NISAR satellite.

Haritashya’s project, focused on glaciers, was one of just 11 selected by NASA. Others study landslides, oil spills, and other earth and environmental aspects.

2. This is first-of-its kind data for the U.S.

The ASAR system will produce the first ever such data in the U.S. It will help Haritashya and his team possibly see below the thin layer of sediment on the surface of a glacier.

“Through this work, we will be able to test the sensor’s capability to penetrate through the surface of the glacier and characterize glacial movement, map the size of debris on glaciers and study melting patterns,” said Haritashya, who since 2012 has received nearly $3 million in NASA research funding to study glacial lakes and landslides in the Himalaya and Karakoram mountains of southeast Asia.

“This synthetic aperture radar data is a lot more complex than what I’ve used in the past. In many ways, it’s the future of satellite remote sensing for improved detection, characterization and understanding of Earth processes,” he added.

3. Findings will have global implications

Through this program, NASA is collecting images in the U.S., flying over Alaska and the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges, among a few other specific target areas. But Haritashya said his project will be useful worldwide.

“By doing this analysis, we will be able to generate some preliminary information about how these glaciers are melting and how useful such sensors can be in extracting scientific information from the glacier, which can be applicable to other parts of the world,” Haritashya said.

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