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ISSUE 119 VOL 1 PUBLISHED 9/16/2005

Jacobel receives grant

By Aaron Johansen
Staff Writer

Friday, September 16, 2005

St. Olaf scientists will be returning to the Antarctic after a four-year hiatus thanks to new National Science Foundation (NSF) funding. Professor of Physics Bob Jacobel and research faculty member Brian Welch spearheaded the proposal that, after receiving good reviews, was awarded $408,000 by the NSF.

St. Olaf will be part of the International Trans Antarctic Scientific Expedition (ITASE). ITASE is composed of research programs, like St. Olaf’s. The programs write individual proposals but contribute to a common goal in Antarctic research.

Jacobel's group utilizes a radar system that penetrates the ice and gives information about ice history and deformation. "It's one of those essential tools that enables us to 'see' into the past as well as help understand how the ice is changing today," Jacobel said.

Two years ago, a similar set of proposals were submitted to the NSF by eleven groups, including Jacobel’s group, that made up ITASE. The ITASE group received good reviews, but the NSF was not ready to commit the logistics to make the project possible, so all eleven research programs were rejected and advised to resubmit.

During this period Jacobel had summer physics research students analyzing data acquired in 1999-2002 Antarctic traverse project, while other students were in Sweden studying how surface water penetrates sheets of ice. Welch had research students in Alaska looking at the ice volume in the summit caldera of a volcano to determine where it will go if an eruption occurs.

"We weren’t able to do Antarctic field work in '03, but we still had other projects available, including one on Kamb ice stream last season. Research funding is a game and this is how it works," Jacobel said.

The new NSF grant is allows research to continue, but there are delays. While St. Olaf is ready to begin Antarctic fieldwork on the ITASE project right away, the NSF had St. Olaf and other ITASE members wait until 2007 before starting. This way ITASE would become part of the U.S. contribution to the International Polar Year, which would commemorate the 50th anniversary of the International Geophysical Year. During this year, research conducted in the polar regions and elsewhere lead, among other things, to the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts that surround the earth.

The NSF grant will not only support the fieldwork, but also the participation of St. Olaf physics students. "Students have an essential role in all of our research projects," Jacobel said. The grant has been budgeted to last three years. Two years will be spent doing field research and the third year will be spent processing the data. Because Welch played a primary role in field work from the first ITASE expedition, he will be in charge of the fieldwork for this expedition. Jacobel will continue to manage the ITASE project along with the group's various other research projects at St. Olaf.

The primary goal of ITASE in the upcoming expedition is to continue to determine the spatial variability of climate during the last 200 years across the Antarctic Ice Sheet. ITASE hopes to understand ocean-ice sheet interactions, climate variability and human impact on climate over the last 200 years.

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