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Scientists off to Antarctica to understand the Swedish spring tide

“Our measurements in Antarctica will help us calculate snowfall in Sweden, as well as flood risks and water levels in reservoirs,” says Andrew Mercer, glaciologist and lecturer at University of Gävle.

The research team to which Andrew Mercer belongs will look at the dry deep snow that is there and how it affects satellites’ radar signals.

“As Antarctica has deep dry snow and a layer of ice several kilometres thick, there is no interference with the signals. By using a model created by a scientist in Stockholm, we can see how much snow falls in Sweden too. This enables us to plan ahead, as we can foresee flooding and water supply needs,” says Andrew Mercer.

The other team will be in Antarctica much longer. Their focus is to study how long rocks and stones have been exposed to radiation to determine how thick and wide the ice has been over time.

“There is a fairly flat surface to land on”

Last Saturday, Andrew flew down to Cape Town. After arrival, he was to be quarantined for two weeks because of the pandemic. Then, the scientists will fly to the Russian base Novo, for onward transport by smaller aircraft to the main Swedish base Wasa. In Antarctica, there is another Swedish base, Svea. This is a much smaller station located 18 miles inland, which is used for longer expeditions to the mountains.

“Wasa is located close to the coast, very close to the Finnish base Aboa, and we collaborate with them in many ways. There is a flat area there, which makes is possible to land and to take off; here the Russians are in charge,” says Andrew Mercer.

The biggest danger is the cold

Now, it is summer in Antarctica. An Arctic summer is like a Swedish winter with temperatures between 10-20 degrees below zero, but a month ago there was a wind chill factor of 66 degrees below zero.

“I have no concerns regarding the expedition itself. We know that it is the cold that is dangerous, and we are not taking any risks. For this reason, we have rehearsed every step of the operation. My main worry is rather the quarantine and the risk of getting infected by COVID-19.”

The plan is that the expedition will leave Antarctica on 14 January, “unless the weather stirs up trouble,” as Andrew Mercer puts it.

Unique competence at the University of Gävle

Andrew Mercer is a glaciologist with a background as a survey engineer. His did his PhD at the Tarfala Research Station, focusing on glacier mass balance survey methods.

At the University, he teaches geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing, and physical geography to students in land surveying, spatial planning, and in building and environmental engineering programmes.

“At University of Gävle, we have both a long experience of offering study programmes in land surveying as well as an ongoing collaboration with Lantmäteriet with a strong focus on GIS. This expertise makes us stand out,” says Andrew Mercer.

“Rapid developments in GIS mean that this is a skill in very high demand in the job market, which is a great advantage for our students.”

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The project, which is supported by the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat and the Swedish National Space Agency, is a collaboration between Stockholm University, University of Gävle, and Luleå University of Technology. The Swedish group consists of maintenance staff from the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat and two teams with three scientists each.

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