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RU Physics Professor and Students to Research Polar Sea Ice in Alaska

RADFORD -- Radford University physics professor Rhett Herman and seven of his students will travel to Barrow, Alaska, during spring break March 8 - March 16.

Herman, freshman physics majors Laura Sweat and Brian Veitz, sophomore physics major Caleigh Samuels, junior physics majors Ean Atkinson and Trevor Twyford, senior geology major Christine Ruhl and graduate student Jeremy McLaughlin will determine the age of the sea ice by imaging the ice with geophysical equipment in a number of locations.

Checking equipmentThey will specifically map out the ice/water boundary that lies one to two meters below the ice surface. Sophomore physics major Elizabeth Gichana will process the data overnight that the group sends back from Barrow. She will use campus based computers to illuminate features that the group cannot see on a quick processing run in the field.

(IN THE PHOTO: A student checks equipment on campus that will be used for the research project.)

The group's goal is to deploy their geophysical equipment on sea ice that has been intact for at least several months, as well as on sea ice that may have been intact even over the ever-shortening arctic summers. They will then analyze the data to determine if there is a correlation between the exact shape of the ice/seawater boundary and the age of the ice. If they find such a correlation then other researchers could have the ability to quantify exactly how many years the various parts of the shrinking north polar ice cap have been around. This would allow researchers to then shed light on whether the remaining ice that we see is reforming each year or if there are patches that are floating around too small to be imaged by our satellites.

The trip is a part of the class Arctic Geophysics, a research class designed to give undergraduates a real experience in original research. "These students are all aggressive and hard-working, and they all understand that this isn't a sightseeing trip," says Herman. "This is serious work. This work will result in a number of presentations and refereed publications for all of the students involved."

March 4, 2008
Contact: Ann Hillenbrand (; 540-831-7749)

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