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GROVER is a 6-foot-tall, 800-pound robot powered by solar energy whose mission is to study the impact of climate change. (Gabriel Trisca, Boise State University)

GROVER Goes to Greenland

NASA sends a robot to explore Greenland’s melting ice sheet

By Joe Bubar | May 8 , 2013
<p> PHOTO: Ninety-seven percent of Greenland’s ice sheet experienced some melting last summer. (Patrick Robert / Corbis) </p><p> MAP: Greenland lies in the far north and can be difficult to explore. (Jim McMahon)</p>

PHOTO: Ninety-seven percent of Greenland’s ice sheet experienced some melting last summer. (Patrick Robert / Corbis)

MAP: Greenland lies in the far north and can be difficult to explore. (Jim McMahon)

When you hear the name Greenland, you might think of a place with warm weather and lots of leafy forests. In reality, roughly 80 percent of this Arctic island in the North Atlantic Ocean is covered by a sheet of ice—and now that ice is melting fast. As a result, the American space agency NASA has sent a robot to help save the island’s ice.

To determine how to do that, scientists need to learn more about how and why Greenland’s ice sheet is changing. But sending human researchers to study the ice sheet on snowmobiles and in aircraft can be expensive and time-consuming.

So a group of college students at a NASA engineering summer camp came up with an alternative. They invented a robot known as GROVER, which stands for both Greenland Rover and Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research.

On May 3, NASA sent GROVER to Greenland to begin gathering data on the changes that the ice sheet is undergoing.

THE MELTING ISLAND

Last summer alone, more than 97 percent of Greenland’s icy surface experienced some melting. Some scientists predict that in 2,000 years, the entire ice sheet will be one big puddle because of rising temperatures in the region. That’s bad news. If the ice sheet completely melts, sea levels will rise. Rising sea levels around the world could bring about severe flooding, and some small islands could even disappear beneath the waves.

That’s why, during the next month, GROVER will travel for more than 400 miles over the ice sheet. GROVER will use radar technology to examine the different layers of ice about 65 feet below the surface. By studying the different layers, scientists can get a picture of how the ice sheet has changed over the past 20 years.

GROVER THE ROVER

GROVER will be able to work longer and gather more data than any scientist on a snowmobile could. The 6-foot-tall, 800-pound robot is powered by solar energy (electricity made from sunlight). It will be able to run anytime throughout the day or night because the sun never sets below the horizon during the Arctic summer.

“Robots like GROVER will give us a new tool for glaciology studies,” says NASA glaciologist Lora Koenig. Glaciology is the study of glaciers and ice sheets.

The robot rover is set to launch from a research station called Summit Camp. The ice sheet there is about two miles thick. Scientists will begin to test GROVER’s abilities by sending the robot on short missions within a few miles of Summit Camp.

Scientists hope this is just the beginning for GROVER. If the robot completes its first test, NASA plans to send GROVER out to explore the ice sheet for many months at a time.

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