• Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
09/16/2011 07:00:00

Using Technology Designed for Mars to Look at Earth's Deserts

An international team led by JPL has used radar sounding technology developed to explore the subsurface of Mars to create high-resolution maps of freshwater aquifers buried deep beneath a desert on Earth.

Over a span of two weeks, the researchers flew a helicopter equipped with a radar sounding prototype provided by Caltech and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris over two well-known subsurface aquifers in northern Kuwait. The radar successfully located the aquifers and was able to probe variations in the depth of the water table and identify locations where water flowed into and out of the aquifers.

"By mapping desert aquifers with this technology, we can detect layers deposited by ancient geological processes and trace back paleoclimatic conditions that existed thousands of years ago, when many of today's deserts were wet," says Essam Heggy, the team's leader and a research scientist at JPL. 

The radar sounding prototype shares similar characteristics with two instruments flying on Mars-orbiting spacecraft: Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS), on the European Space Agency's Mars Express, and Shallow Radar (SHARAD), on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Both instruments have found evidence of ice in the Martian subsurface, but have not yet detected liquid water. The Kuwait results may lead to revised interpretations of data from these two instruments.

The study was cofunded by Caltech's Keck Institute for Space Studies and the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR), in Kuwait City.

To watch a related video online, click here, and to read the full press release, click here.

Written by Kimm Fesenmaier