A better understanding of how sea ice forms is the focus of new funding secured by Alexandra’s Bodeker Scientific.
Dr Ethan Dale said the organisation had secured $75,000 from the Catalyst Strategic Fund.
This fund was a joint research programme between the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
The aim of the fund was to enable feasibility studies in the areas of propulsion, space communications and synthetic aperture radar technologies.
Dr Dale said funds would be used on a feasibility study to understand opportunities for future aerospace research.
“We are basically looking into future avenues of research for future space missions from New Zealand”
The project would specifically look at measuring sea ice in the Southern ocean using a technique called SAR (synthetic aperture radar) imaging.
This used satellites to measure sea ice.
Sea ice was very difficult to measure because it was mostly prevalent in the winter, and included periods where there was 24 hours of darkness.
Logistically it became very difficult to make measurements in situ in the Southern hemisphere.
Sea ice was measured at only a few coastal stations, such as New Zealand’s Antarctic research facility Scott Base, but that represented ‘‘one dot’’ on the whole Southern continent.
Dr Dale was specifically focused on ice forming on the top layer of the ocean surface, as opposed to icebergs which were big chunks of ice that had broken off (calved) from glaciers.
‘‘We are primarily looking in areas called polynyas.’’
This was a Russian word that translated into ‘hole’, Dr Dale said.
It was an area where there was a solid layer of sea ice but because of wind flow sea ice was blown away leaving an area of open water that was surrounded by sea ice.
Near Scott Base was the Ross Sea Polynya, which was the largest polynya in the world.
At present sea ice was measured from space using standard imaging techniques, but they had difficulties when there cloud cover.
SAR used radar which was able to penetrate cloud cover.
‘‘The clouds are basically invisible on that wavelength.’’
SAR also measured at a much higher level of resolution, Dr Dale said.
Understanding sea ice formation was important because it would affect global climate models.
‘‘We are hoping to be able to measure the moment of the ice, so you take an image of the ice and you come back 24 hours later and take another image and see how far it has moved.’’