Ice Station Dakota
UND will work alongside three other universities and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to map, analyze and visualize current and future Arctic terrain
At times it pays to live in North Dakota, a place where many people are comfortable working in winter temperatures that can fall to 25 or 30 degrees below zero. This is one of those times.
The University of North Dakota has been named part of a $17 million cold-weather research effort in collaboration with three other universities and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab (CRREL).
Over the next four years, UND will be working alongside Virginia Tech – the project’s PI or principal investigator – as well as Stonybrook University and the University of Minnesota to conduct Arctic research and develop the Defense Resiliency Platform Against Extreme Cold Weather, for which the initiative is named.
Cutting-edge collaborative research
UND’s share of the grant award totals just over $4 million, making it one of the largest in the history of the College of Arts & Sciences. With the goal of enhancing the superiority and effectiveness of the U.S. Army in extreme cold weather environments, UND’s role will bring together multiple North Dakota-based resources and collaborations to create the project’s cyberinfrastructure hub, said Timothy J. Pasch, professor of communication, Arctic researcher and UND’s principal investigator on the project.
UND’s tasks include conducting research fieldwork in the air and on the ground in some of the most remote and inaccessible regions of the Alaskan Arctic wilderness. This data will be analyzed through cutting-edge collaborative research in data visualization, advanced modeling and predictive analytics.
“One of the most exciting parts of this research is how collaborative it is,” Pasch said. In addition to CRREL and Virginia Tech’s leadership, plus collaboration with Stonybrook and the U of M, this initiative brings together multiple groups at UND including the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Communication, the Artificial Intelligence/Virtual Reality Lab at the Chester Fritz Library, UND’s Research Institute for Automated Systems, the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the UND Artificial Intelligence Research Initiative, among other teams.
“We’re also enthusiastic to be working together on digital innovation with the University of California at Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, which is managing the DataONE Foundation and the Arctic Data Center for the US National Science Foundation,” Pasch continued.
Charting an extreme environment
UND‘s research and technological innovation will assist CRREL in better understanding changes in Alaskan permafrost – the frozen layer of rock and soil that covers a significant amount of land above the Arctic Circle. As areas of the Arctic thaw, the resulting terrain shifts can cause extensive damage to infrastructure and create further safety risks for the U.S. Army in an already extreme environment.
“Our team is working with some of the most dynamic researchers in the world to gather, map, analyze and visualize current and future Arctic terrain conditions with high degrees of accuracy, as well as developing the data platform integrating machine learning to automate these processes,” Pasch said.
Many UND graduate and undergraduate students will be involved with this research over the next four years. The student researchers will test various stages of the Defense Resiliency Platform, help develop the systems’ artificial intelligence protocols, collect data in the field and perform multiple other tasks.
Some of the undergraduate students assisting the team are cadets in UND’s Army ROTC Battalion, under the direction of Col. Jason R. Mathre, professor of military science.
“This is an incredible opportunity for Army ROTC to collaborate on a project that will have significant positive impacts on the soldiers of the future,” Mathre said. “The cadets look forward to providing input on the technology and equipment helping influence the effectiveness of the cold weather research.”
Students and faculty alike will contribute to multiple high-impact journal articles to be published in the fields of communication, AI, engineering, geospatial data and computer science, among others.
‘Uniquely prepared’ to meet challenges
UND collaborators on the project joining Pasch are Aaron Bergstrom, UND advanced cyberinfrastructure manager, Xun Zhu, assistant professor of communication; Brad Traver, cyberinfrastructure engineer, and David Apostal, instructor in computer science; DjeDje Kossu Zahui, associate professor of mechanical engineering; Naima Kaabouch, director of the UND Artificial Intelligence Research Institute; Aymane Ahajjam, post-doctoral student in AI; and from the Research Institute for Automated Systems: Jordan Kruger and Emmanuel Chukwuemeka under the supervision of Mark Askelson, UND’s new associate vice president for national security research. Additional undergraduate and graduate student team members will be joining the team in the Fall.
“I extend my congratulations to Dr. Pasch and the team on this award and huge thanks to all those who helped make this happen, both inside and outside UND,” said John Mihelich, interim vice president for research & economic development.
“The project exemplifies the interdisciplinary and collaborative research excellence building across the University, as well as our growing research with the Department of Defense aligned with the UND National Security Grand Challenge.
“Importantly, the research provides numerous graduate and undergraduate students with hands-on research experience. I very much look forward to the outstanding work from the research team over the course of this project.”
As for what’s ahead, including working in remote environments and developing leading-edge software, UND’s researchers are uniquely prepared to meet the project’s challenges, said Bradley Rundquist, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences.
“Being resilient and even thriving in cold weather is something we have a lot of experience with here at UND,” Rundquist said. “Through our real-life experience with extreme weather, combined with Dr. Pasch’s long history of conducting research in Arctic regions and the partnerships across campus, this collaboration enables us to apply our expertise to creating sophisticated solutions for the defense industry.”
Jeff Weatherly, associate dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, agreed. “We are very proud to be part of the collaborative group looking to aid the Department of Defense,” he said. “Staying on the forefront of communication technology is a vital need for the country, and I am pleased that our expert faculty will assist with that goal.”
The team would like to acknowledge the support of John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, North Dakota’s U.S. senators; Bradley Rundquist, Becky Lucke and the College of Arts & Sciences Dean’s Office; John Mihelich, Michael Sadler and the Division of Research & Economic Development; Rebecca Snell, grants & contracts officer; Ryan Adams, director of the School of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science; Naima Kaabouch, director of the Artificial Intelligence Research Initiative; and the Research Institute for Autonomous Systems.