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Prototype wireless sensors for monitoring subsurface processes in snow and firn


The detection and monitoring of meltwater within firn presents a significant monitoring challenge. We explore the potential of small wireless sensors (ETracer+, ET+) to measure temperature, pressure, electrical conductivity and thus the presence or absence of meltwater within firn, through tests in the dry snow zone at the East Greenland Ice Core Project site. The tested sensor platforms are small, robust and low cost, and communicate data via a VHF radio link to surface receivers. The sensors were deployed in low-temperature firn at the centre and shear margins of an ice stream for 4 weeks, and a ‘bucket experiment’ was used to test the detection of water within otherwise dry firn. The tests showed the ET+ could log subsurface temperatures and transmit the recorded data through up to 150 m dry firn. Two VHF receivers were tested: an autonomous phase-sensitive radio-echo sounder (ApRES) and a WinRadio. The ApRES can combine high-resolution imaging of the firn layers (by radio-echo sounding) with in situ measurements from the sensors, to build up a high spatial and temporal resolution picture of the subsurface. These results indicate that wireless sensors have great potential for long-term monitoring of firn processes.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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Correspondence: Elizabeth Bagshaw <>
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