ANSI - American National Standards Institute
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Rubber Ducks Take an Arctic Bath to Study Glacial Movement

Standards for several key instruments assist in NASA initiative

New York, Oct 16, 2008

As part of a continuing effort to study the movement of glaciers, NASA has sent 90 small rubber ducks into the meltwater of the fastest-moving glacier in Greenland, the Jakobshavn Glacier off of Greenland’s west coast.

By tracking the movement and ultimate destination of the ducks, NASA will gain insight into the increased speed of glacial movement that occurs during the summer. Scientists hope that people who find the ducks, which have “science experiment” and “reward” written on them in three languages, will report their findings to NASA, a member of the American National Standards Institute.

Accompanying the rubber ducks on their long voyage at sea is a floating robotic probe equipped with several instruments that will record data to assist in the study. These devices, which will supplement the information gathered from the movement of the ducks, are supported by standards that have promoted their development.

One instrument included in the experiment is a Global Positioning Service (GPS) device that will record the location of the probe. An international standard developed by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) sets guidelines for maritime GPS systems similar to the one used in the NASA experiment. IEC 61108-1 Ed. 2.0 en:2003, Maritime navigation and radio communication equipment and systems - Global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) - Part 1: Global positioning system (GPS) - Receiver equipment - Performance standards, methods of testing and required test results specifies the minimum performance standards, methods of testing and required test results for GPS ship borne receiver equipment.

This standard was developed by IEC Technical Committee (TC) 80, Maritime navigation and radiocommunication equipment and systems. The United States National Committee (USNC)-approved Technical Advisory Group (TAG) Administrator for this TC is the U.S. Coast Guard, an ANSI member.

A pressure sensor was also deployed in the robotic probe. ASTM F2070-00(2006), Standard Specification for Transducers, Pressure and Differential, Pressure, Electrical and Fiber-Optic, guides the general development and quality standards for pressure sensors like the one used in this experiment. This standard was developed by ASTM International, an ANSI member and audited designator.

The probe relies upon an on-board accelerometer to detect when it is moving through waterfalls, rapids, and other characteristics of glacial meltwater. ANSI S2.61-1989 (R2005), Guide to the Mechanical Mounting of Accelerometers, is an American National Standard that provides guidelines and recommendations for the mounting characteristics of accelerometers that are attached on the surface of the structure in motion. The standard was developed by Accredited Standards Committee (ASC) S2, Mechanical Vibration and Shock. ASC S2 is administered by the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), an ANSI member and accredited standards developer.

From high-tech robotic probes to simple bath time rubber ducks, several innovative ideas will help NASA to collect data in this initiative. With the help of standards, this experiment will provide valuable information to enhance the world’s knowledge of glacial movement.

ANSI Nanotechnology Standards Panel