Studying the Cryosphere with NextGen Remote Sensors

A polar bair walks on sea ice in the Chuckchi Sea in the Arctic.
Arctic sea ice, such as on the Chuckchi Sea, is part of the Earth's Cryosphere. UAlbany's Mustafa Aksoy will use remote sensing tools to study the Cryosphere through a new NSF CAREER award. (Photo by Alia Kahn, NSIDC, creative commons)

By Michael Parker

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 28, 2022) — While debate rages on rising energy costs, climate change and the fragile state of the world’s economy, researchers studying the Earth’s environment remain constrained by the accessibility of the location and the tools available for data gathering.

The problem is compounded in the world’s most remote and harsh environments, where the collection of data may be most important to our understanding of the impact of climate change on a global scale. This is exactly the problem that UAlbany Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Mustafa Aksoy is looking to solve.

Aksoy aims to study the Earth’s Cryosphere — the portion of the planet covered by snow and ice — by developing and utilizing the next-generation polar-orbiting space-borne microwave radiometers to examine the Antarctic and the Arctic.

“Predicting future changes in its ice volume and mass are critical to track the climate and the water cycle on our planet,” said Aksoy, who completed his PhD from the Ohio State University, before becoming a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “Because of the extreme environmental conditions and concerns about increasing human footprint associated with these regions, utilizing the next generation of remote sensing systems will provide us with critical information about our planet’s life cycle without disturbing the ecosystem.”

A portrait photo of UAlbany Assistant Professor Mustafa Aksoy.
Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Mustafa Aksoy

Aksoy has been awarded $499,680 through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program to conduct this work. The CAREER program is the NSF's most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. The project is entitled CAREER: Enabling the Next Generation Wideband Microwave Radiometers for the Remote Sensing of the Cryosphere.

Among instruments capable of studying the Cryosphere, microwave radiometers (passive receivers measuring microwave radiations from their targets) have many advantages since they can provide data independent of cloud conditions and solar illumination, and their measurements are highly sensitive to important ice properties such as thickness, temperature, density, and grain size.

“Provided with enough bandwidth, microwave radiometers are, hypothetically, capable of profiling these properties from the surface to the deep ice,” said Aksoy.

However, radiometer operations to observe the Cryosphere are currently far from ideal. First, they are limited to a few narrow frequency bands to avoid interference from active sources such as radars and wireless communication systems. Second, the electrical properties of ice, which determine the amount of electromagnetic radiation it emits, are not fully characterized versus frequency and temperature.

Aksoy aims to overcome these problems by modeling the electrical properties of ice across wide ranges of frequencies and temperatures and developing efficient interference mitigation algorithms. Furthermore, Aksoy aims to develop a digital wideband radiometer prototype at UAlbany to implement these algorithms and validate the project outcomes through snow remote sensing measurements at fully characterized ground sites.

The opportunity for students to take part in experiential learning will also be front-and-center for Aksoy’s project.

If successful, Aksoy’s project would revolutionize passive microwave remote sensing of the Cryosphere by allowing radiometers to operate in wide frequency spectra, which will provide lower uncertainties and higher vertical resolutions.

In addition to Aksoy, previous CAREER Award recipients include Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Won Namgoong (2002), former Professor of Computer Science Siwei Lyu (2010), Associate Professor of Computer Science Jeong-Hyon Hwang (2012), former Associate Professor of Computer Science Feng Chen (2018), Assistant Professor of Computer Science Mariya Zheleva (2019),  Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Daphney-Stavroula Zois (2020), and Assistant Professors of Computer Science Amirreza Masoumzadeh and Shaghayegh (Sherry) Sahebi (2021) and Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Aveek Dutta (2022).