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Leica Geosystems GS20 GPS/GIS Professional Data Mapper Measures Tropical Glacial Recession In Ecuador 07.15.2003

July 15, 2003
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International Non-Traditional Teaching Initiative 2003 Expedition chooses GS20 for expedition to Ecuador’s Nevado Cayembe.

When gathering geospatial data in a remote and hostile location like a mountain glacier 16,000 feet above sea level, it pays to have a rugged, reliable mapping instrument that’s easy to use. That’s why the International Non-Traditional Teaching Initiative 2003 Expedition (INTI 2003) chose a new GPS/GIS receiver from Leica Geosystems for their recent expedition to Ecuador’s Nevado Cayembe to study glacial recession in the tropics.

As a major sponsor of INTI 2003, an all girls scientific mountaineering expedition in May-June 2003, Leica Geosystems supplied a GS20 personal data mapper, which played a key role in taking vital measurements aimed at determining the extent of glacial recession on one of the world’s highest tropical glaciers. Expedition leader Ret Talbot stated, “The generous support we received from Leica Geosystems in supplying one of their first production-model GS20s played a major role in the success of the expedition.”

The INTI 2003 expedition was made up of a group of girls, age 14-18, from the Oldfields School, a Maryland-based independent school for girls, as an experiential education component of the school’s traditional college preparatory program, explained Talbot. “Paramount among the expedition’s many successes was the data collected, which included meteorological data, glacial mass balance data and glacial geometry data,” he said.

A major goal of the expedition was to map the glacier and its environs to facilitate future studies of the nature and extent of tropical glacial recession. In addition to being an important indicator of global climate fluctuations, glacial recession in the tropics could have a major impact on water resources in the region, which has a disproportionate amount of the world’s readily available freshwater reserves.

The GS20 was used by the students to map and document the glaciers on Cayambe’s southwest flank. “Because the GS20 is accurate to a meter or better, next year’s expedition will be able to return to Cayambe and have a very good idea of exactly how much the glacier has changed,” said Oldfields senior Lauren Park, who took part in the expedition. In addition to the mapping work, the expedition also established an initial transect of ablation stakes on the glacier. “The ablation stakes are three-meter wood or fiberglass poles that we placed two meters into the ice,” explained Alison Jeanes, another Oldfields senior. “After drilling each hole in the glacier and placing the stake, we documented its exact location with the GS20, as well as both the snow line from recent accumulation and the precise depth of the glacial ice. Future expeditions will be able to assess and document any changes. We hope that the record of the changes over time will tell us something about the health of this glacier,” she added.

Talbot noted that the GS20 worked flawlessly and proved to be surprisingly easy for the girls to learn to use without previous training. The personal data mapper was extensively used around the clock by the girls for a wide range of mapping tasks under extremely difficult environmental conditions.

“The cable-free operation facilitated by the GS20’s Bluetooth wireless technology made data collection efficient and streamlined. In a high-altitude mountaineering environment where efficiency means safety, the GS20’s wireless capability gave us peace of mind,” said Talbot. “Knowing that we could rely on the GS20 to do its job of collecting data permitted us to focus on risk management and gave us the confidence to map portions of the glacier we had previously categorized as inaccessible.”

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