TALLADEGA -- Talladega native Joshua Nunn spent his part of his summer a very long way from home.
Currently working on a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Alabama, Nunn had the opportunity to visit Greenland. He previously attended Talladega City Schools and graduated from Victory Christian in Pell City; according to a university press release, this trip was the first time he had traveled outside the country or been on an airplane.
“The University of Copenhagen has a center that does climate research,” he explained. “They contracted with one of my professors to build a radar system to measure the ice sheet. The bottom 7 percent of the ice sheet in Greenland has never been measured with any frequency.”
The professor chose Nunn as one of the students to make the trip.
“The total trip was about three weeks, and we were on the ice for 14 days,” Nunn said. After flying from Birmingham to Atlanta to an air national guard base in Albany, New York, the party boarded a C-130 military cargo plane for the trip to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.
“The flight was about six hours, with a stop in Goose Bay, (Canada), to refuel,” Nunn said. “Once we were in town, we just took a bus to the hotel.”
After a couple of days, the party rode about 2 1/2 hours on snowmobiles to an introductory meeting with the rest of the international team.
“The team stayed on top of the ice sheet at a camp housing scientists studying the sheet’s flow into the ocean,” according to the release.
In the middle of the white ice, Nunn and the UA team hunkered down at night in a tent with electricity supplied by a generator. Still, one morning, Nunn awoke to find frozen water in a cup beside his bed. Still, the team had internet and Netflix and could call home, too. In a common area under a domed structure, there was space for a kitchen, dining, shower and laundry. An onsite chef served up some of the best food Nunn had ever eaten. Everyone spoke English.
According to the press release, “The radar is 1,000 times more sensitive than the current state-of-the-art radar used to image glaciers, operating at a higher power with a bigger, yet lighter antenna than similar radars for ice-sounding … The research team was the first to use a radar to image the bottom 10 percent of the ice sheet, which is 1.7 miles deep. These results will contribute to developing satellite missions to completely map the Greenland and Antarctic ice.”
The camp was in the northwest corner of the ice sheet, and most days involved a 5-kilometer trek from the camp to operate the radar.
“The cold makes things harder to handle, harder to turn and bend. But we accounted for a lot of stuff, we were successful,” Nunn said.
The radar itself was a giant cross the team had to drag on a two-track vehicle, which presented some problems as well.
“The back would get caught under the tracks, which would warp the front and distort the data,” Nunn said. “We had to process out that distortion. Next time, they should put the antennae side by side.”
This summer’s outing was essentially a test run for the deployment of a similar array in Antarctica.
“I won’t be going on that trip,” Nunn said. “Another grad student will be going in my place. I’m going to be working on other projects and writing my thesis.”