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ESL researcher uses remote sensing to help advance climate science technology

Celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2017, the ElectroScience Laboratory (ESL) at The Ohio State University has built a renowned international reputation for its historic achievements in science. ESL is a major center-of-excellence in Ohio State’s College of Engineering and one of the largest radio frequency and optics research laboratories in the world.

Over the next few months, we’ll highlight ESL researchers who are making waves in next-generation scientific realms and striving to advance human knowledge for a better tomorrow.


Alexandra BringerAs part of the ElectroScience Laboratory (ESL) at The Ohio State University, Alexandra Bringer is helping advance the technology behind climate science for future generations.

“If we want to live longer on Earth, we have to know how to preserve it,” said Bringer, a senior researcher associate at ESL. “You cannot just do nothing and see what happens.”

Originally from France, Bringer came to Ohio State to get more involved in remote sensing research. She is part of a team led by Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor and Chair Joel Johnson that is currently assisting NASA on several remote sensing projects.

One project, “UWBRAD: Ultra-Wideband Software Defined Microwave Radiometer for Ice Sheet Subsurface Temperature Sensing,” is interesting, Bringer explained, because the physical temperature of the Greenland ice sheet can be obtained from the multi-frequency measurements of its thermal emissions.

Knowing the physical temperatures inside the ice sheet is key for understanding ice deformation and motion, as well as dynamics, Bringer said. Awareness of these forces is important for future prediction of ice coverage and rising sea levels. The UWBRAD radiometer provides real data on this front, she said. The tool was first deployed over Greenland in September 2016 and is scheduled for a second campaign deployment in September.

Meanwhile, the team is also looking for different applications for the instrument, such as detecting mountain snow thickness or even mapping aquifers “in firn,” a technical name for partially compacted snow left on the ice sheets from previous years.

“It’s like wet snow in firn instead of just ice, but it does not freeze in winter nor throughout the year,” Bringer said about the aquifers. “The idea is to measure the thermal emission over an aquifer region with the radiometer and try to see if there is a particular signature of the brightness temperature to retrieve some physical information about the aquifer itself.”

Researchers hope to combine the satellite data with data from the second UWBRAD flyover deployment over Greenland and use it to map the aquifers.

“The wetness of the firn aquifer varies with the seasons, which causes a change in the brightness temperature and this signature is noticeable when looking at radiometer data in the course of a year,” Bringer said. “We’re trying to understand this signature and model that. Thermal emissions from the ice may line up to these.”

Remote sensing technology has many different scientific applications. Bringer’s research currently focuses on the cryosphere—or portions of the Earth’s surface where water is frozen solid.

“I did my PhD on remote sensing over the ocean,” Bringer said. “You can switch from different areas and use the same kind of skills.”

Moving forward, she feels grateful to be able to work under the guidance of Johnson and the people at ESL, especially on such high-level projects.

“Human activity is really impacting our environment. You can see that, for example, with global warming, which causes the rising sea level,” Bringer said. “Working in fields like remote sensing, we can monitor climate changes over time and make people aware.”

Edited version of article by Ryan Horns, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Tags: Research