Researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI) will combine efforts to explore arid environments to discover and monitor underground sources of freshwater.
Using radar technology similar to that deployed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the project will examine the earth’s driest ecosystems, whether in the hot stretches of sand (a desert) or the cold expanses of ice as evidenced at either pole.
The purpose of the study is to assess regions with very little annual precipitation and to better understand the effects of climate change in these areas.
The Orbiting Arid Subsurfaces and Ice Sheet Sounder (OASIS) study project is to design a satellite mission to probe sand dunes, with a primary goal to discover and monitor the aquifers on which many local communities depend.
In addition, the project will explore the dynamics of melting ice sheets. In this instance, if saltwater from rising seas contaminates freshwater in aquifers, regional livelihoods, habitation, and food security will be affected.
The project intends to launch a satellite that would to map the distribution of shallow aquifers beneath the desert's surface in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
Assisted by radar, the study will examine how the desert aquifers originated and how groundwater moves beneath the deserts and in the extant subsurface fractures. This data will contribute to aquifer management.
Secondarily, researchers will study the topography of the land beneath ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. Icesheet thickness and water flow paths to the ocean will be mapped. This information would, then, feed into models of current and future ice sheet responses to climate change. This, in turn, helps develop the response to rising sea levels.
"Warm and cold deserts are responding to climatic changes by expanding and shrinking, respectively," said Essam Heggy, the OASIS principal investigator and chief scientist and research program director of the Earth Science Program at QEERI. "Studying the forces driving these transformations will give us insight into the evolution of deserts on Earth."
Understanding these arid regions and the dynamics of aquifers and ice sheets is one of several priorities of the National Academies of Sciences.
“The OASIS study project will explore a promising complementary observing approach that can contribute to our understanding about these two areas of Earth science research," said Gerald Bawden, NASA program scientist for the OASIS project.
"Water security is becoming a global issue for an increasing number of countries around the globe and beyond the so-called arid regions," said Marc Vermeersch, the executive director of the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute. "This project is pioneering the research in this field by providing Qatar – and the whole scientific community – an innovative tool that will bring key responses in the field, support the decision-making process in terms of water resources, and help identify pathways to secure access to water for populations. I am particularly glad and proud QEERI is teaming up with NASA for the sake of a better world, and for the advancement of science".