Antarctica Math

Antarctica's Frozen Sea

Sea ice reflecting beautifully in the evening sun. This is where we set up our tent. Yep, it sure was slippery!

HI, I’m Cindy Furse, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Utah. Electrical engineers like me use electricity to invent things or discover things that can change the world. Four of us from the U are setting out on an Antarctic Expedition Nov 15 to measure the electrical properties of sea ice to find out more about how ice is controlled by the climate when it is produced. Later, we may be able to use that information to better understand the long term climate changes and how they have affected the world’s ice packs.
There is a lot to learn about ice. Here are some different kinds of ice (some?! LOTS of different kinds of ice):
We are most interested in the brine in ice. As sea water freezes, brine is rejected by the solidification process and there is a layer of highly concentrated brine at the interface, which has a corrugated platelet structure. As these platelets grow further, this extra salty water is trapped between the platelets in the form of submillimeter scale inclusions. These inclusions are generally tubular, because of gravity pulling the brine down. You can see some microscopic pictures of sea ice and its brine inclusions here:
Brine is very salty, and therefore highly conductive (it can conduct current, sort of like a wire can). In the direction of the long inclusions (vertically), we expect the ice to be more conductive (carry more current) than in the horizontal direction. But we don’t know for sure. And we don’t know how much difference there will be between the horizontal and vertical conductivity of the ice. When the properties are different in different directions, we say the ice is ‘anisotropic’. And that is what we are out to measure.
Four of us from the U are headed to Antarctica, where we will meet up with other teams from around the world.
Me: Cindy Furse – Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Ken Golden – Professor of Math
David Lubbers – an undergraduate electrical engineering student, doing his senior project on sea ice measurements
Joyce Lin – postdoctoral researcher in Math
We’ll give you more introduction to each of us in upcoming blogs.
But for now, I’d like to introduce you to another important part of our Antarctic Math-pedition. To make important discoveries, engineers and scientists use MATH! We like math, we use math, we need math, and we want to share the fun of discovering, inventing, and experimenting with math and engineering. So here is an invitation to teachers and students (and anybody else!) … come to Antarctica ‘with’ us. We will be talking about preparations for our upcoming adventure, and the math and science we will be using, in this blog over the next few weeks.
So, the question of the day is:
Tell us what (math topic) you are studying in your class, if you are a teacher or a student, and what grade level you are in. We will try to find examples of where we use that type of math in Antarctica. Brrrrry Cold Math!
—Dr. Cindy Furse

This blog was first posted on the University of Utah blog site:


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