Nasa is sending a six feet-tall solar-powered rover prototype for ice exploration on highest part of Greenland's massive ice sheet.
The space agency's newest scientific rover is set for testing in the highest part of Greenland, Nasa said.
The robot known as GROVER, which stands for both Greenland Rover and Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research, will roam the frigid landscape collecting measurements to help scientists better understand changes in the massive ice sheet.
This autonomous, solar-powered robot carries a ground-penetrating radar to study how snow accumulates, adding layer upon layer to the ice sheet over time. Greenland's surface layer vaulted into the news in summer 2012 when higher than normal temperatures caused surface melting across about 97% of the ice sheet, Nasa said.
Scientists at Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, expect GROVER to detect the layer of the ice sheet that formed in the aftermath of that extreme melt event.
Research with polar rovers costs less than aircraft or satellites, the usual platforms.
"Robots like GROVER will give us a new tool for glaciology studies," said Lora Koenig, a glaciologist at Goddard and science adviser on the project.
GROVER will be joined on the ice sheet in June by another robot, named Cool Robot, developed at Dartmouth College, Hanover. This rover can tow a variety of instrument packages to conduct glaciological and atmospheric studies.
The tank-like GROVER prototype stands six feet tall, including its solar panels. It weighs about 363 kg and traverses the ice on two re-purposed snowmobile tracks. The robot is powered entirely by solar energy, so it can operate in pristine polar environments without adding to air pollution.