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On thinning ice

In the Arctic, sensors monitor changing climate

A light sensor made with a 3D printer for about $40 per cell is contributing to invaluable research into climate change above the Arctic Circle.

Dr. Petros Katsioloudis ’03, ’04 is a professor and chair of the STEM Education and Professional Studies Department at Old Dominion University. With the help of lecturer Basim Matrood, he led development of the new cost-efficient and reliable light sensor, which collects data underneath the polar ice.

The Cal U alumnus is part of a research team, headed by colleague Dr. Victoria Hill, that is studying the effects of climate change on the rate of ice-cap melting in the Arctic.

In April, Katsioloudis made his third trip to help launch WArming and IrRadiance Measurement (WARM) buoys in the Arctic Ocean north of Utqiagvik, Alaska.

The buoys, either tethered to the ice or floating in the water, measure temperature, salinity and the amount of sunlight absorbed by the water under the thinning ice pack. They send hourly observations via satellite to Old Dominion and to the National Science Foundation’s Arctic Data Center website.

Old Dominion is located in the coastal city of Norfolk, Va., making research into climate change a priority for the school.

“Dr. Hill has been conducting research in the Arctic for more than a decade, and I asked if there was a way we could help,” Katsioloudis says.

A grant from the NSF Office of Polar Programs and the Joshua P. and Elizabeth Darden Foundation is funding the research.

“Every trip we take costs $100,000,” Katsioloudis says. “Because of the harsh climate, equipment has to be replaced every year, so it’s important that sensors be manufactured in a cost-efficient way. We need special clothing and equipment.

The buoy that the sensors are attached to is a $40,000 investment.

“We can manufacture a sensor for one-tenth of the cost, and it collects the same data.”

NBC’s Today show featured live reports about the team’s trip to the Arctic Ocean in April. “It was a very special year,” Katsioloudis says. “Having that type of exposure is every researcher’s dream. It allows us to share the work that we are doing with the world.”

Katsioloudis earned his bachelor’s degree in industrial technology from Cal U, then added a master’s degree in technology education.

With a smile, he acknowledges that a professor in his school’s College of Education might not be the most obvious candidate to assist with climate change research in the Arctic. He credits his undergraduate work in industrial technology with providing a foundation of technical expertise in designing and precision manufacturing.

“My industrial technology degree was very helpful,” he says. “It’s a unique degree and very rewarding, because it allows
you to work in many different areas.”

— By Wendy Mackall, Communications director at Cal U

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