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Mission Critical: Polar Grid speeds polar science

Polar Grid project deploys innovative technology to Greenland and Antarctica to aid polar science research on our changing planet.

March 31, 2009

IU sends innovative technology to Greenland and Antarctica to speed polar research

Supported by a $1.96 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Polar Grid is an advanced cyberinfrastructure used to speed polar science research and provide educational opportunities for student scientists. Polar Grid is led by principal investigator Geoffrey Fox, professor of Informatics and director of the Pervasive Technology Institute Digital Science Center. Equipment design and installation is led by the IU Research Technologies Systems group under the direction of Matthew Link. Project partners include IU, Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) in North Carolina, and NSF’s Center for the Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CRESIS). Polar Grid comprises computing hardware and software deployed at polar field researcher sites in Greenland and Antarctica. Polar Grid will also include two high performance computing clusters in the U.S.—one at IU and one at ECSU.

"The news we've seen... is alarming. Scientists say ice sheets in existence for thousands of years are deteriorating rapidly and breaking apart," said Geoffrey Fox. "It is critical to provide polar scientists with access to advanced computing technology during field expeditions; it will help them work more efficiently as they strive to gain a better understanding of the problems facing our planet—and will allow them to move more quickly toward finding solutions," Fox said.

Polar Grid helps to improve data quality and reduce the time between data collection and scientific discovery by allowing scientists to begin processing polar expedition data while still "in the field". This type of on-location processing has not been possible prior to the creation of Polar Grid.

The first Polar Grid equipment was deployed to Greenland and Antarctica starting in 2008, with help from technologists from the IU systems group. Matthew Link and Rich Knepper from IU Systems traveled to Greenland in 2008 to assist with Polar Grid equipment installation. IU Systems technologist Keith Lehigh is currently helping to upgrade Polar Grid hardware on a second expedition to Greenland set to end in spring 2009.

Read more about Polar Grid technology deployed to Greenland and Antarctica in Inside Indiana Business. (

Watch a seven minute overview video  on the Polar Grid Project.