Ohio State’s radiometer will collect data on Arctic ice sheets for a year. Credit: Courtesy of Oguz Demir

Two Ohio State graduate students are taking a polar plunge by way of a research expedition to the Arctic in light of changes in sea ice and climate. 

Oguz Demir and Brandi Downs, doctoral students in electrical and computer engineering, will deploy an ultrawideband microwave radiometer in the Arctic to measure radiation emitted from sea ice to contribute data for climate change models in September.

Demir and Downs will measure the electromagnetic waves emitted from sea ice as part of the Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate, a yearlong international expedition known as MOSAiC.

According to MOSAiC’s website, this is the largest expedition to the central Arctic to study climate and polar sea ice change.

Demir said he flies to Norway Sept. 12 and will cruise towards the North Pole a week later to install the device. Sitting three meters above the ice, the radiometer will take samples every few seconds, he said.

The samples will then be interpreted to pin down the salinity, thickness, temperature and homogeneity of the ice, Demir said.

“There is a large gap, in terms of the scientific data, from the Arctic regions,” Demir said. “Sea ice is telling us a lot about the future of the Arctic.”

Downs said the samples will be compiled in MOSAiC’s Arctic dataset and available to scientists to build accurate climate change and ice models.

Demir and Downs will be two of 600 researchers from 17 countries that will be studying the Arctic ice for months at a time, drifting on Polarstern, a German research icebreaker, according to MOSAiC’s website.

In April 2018 Demir and Downs trained in Utqiagvik, an Alaskan city north of the Arctic Circle, with other MOSAiC scientists and engineers, they said. Demir and Downs took ice cores and snow samples and got first-hand experience with the cold.

“You can read about that stuff online, but there’s nothing like feeling it firsthand,” Downs said.

Downs, who will leave in January for the Arctic, said she also attended a rifle training course in Colorado to protect against polar bears.

According to MOSAiC’s website, there will be a protective ring around Polarstern made up of six polar bear “watchmen,” and researchers will be accompanied any time they leave the ring.

“Polar bears, from what I’ve heard, are more curious than anything else,” Downs said. “Frostbite is way more of a danger.”

During the winter, temperatures can drop below -50 degrees Fahrenheit, and towards the end of Demir’s trip, it will be dark 24 hours a day, Joel Johnson, doctoral adviser for Demir and Downs, said.

Demir and Downs will have limited contact with friends and family for two months. They will only be able to send and receive emails up to one kilobyte, Downs said. Regardless, Johnson said the two will likely be too busy for sending many emails. 

“They will have full days every day,” Johnson said. “When they’re not working on remote sensing instruments, they need to go out and help the sea ice team with drilling cores and analyzing the ice cores.”

If successful, “this could be a contribution to the next generation of remote sensing instruments, especially for satellite-deployed radiometers,” Demir said.