NASA's modified P-3B aircraft arrives at the National Science Foundation's McMurdo Station in Antarctica, with Mount Erebus, one of Antarctica's active volcanoes, in the background.
Spring's not all about pretty flowers and greening trees. For some scientists it means watching Arctic ice. Scientists and engineers with NASA's Operation IceBridge are already at it, surveying glaciers in Greenland, Alaska and northern Canada. The flight part of the largest aerial survey of Earth's polar ice ever flown – a six-year mission over both poles aimed at producing a three-dimensional view of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, ice shelves and their sea ice.
Here, NASA's P-3B sits on the tarmac of the Kangerlussuaq Airport. The plane is equipped with a suite of instruments that gather data as the plane flies over the ice. It also carries scientists and teachers, some of whom took the following images.
The glacial Alaskan mountains are seen from high altitude aboard the P-3B during the IceBridge flight from Thule, Greenland, to Fairbanks, Alaska, on March 21, 2013.
A true river of ice, or glacier, on Greenland's Geikie Peninsula.
Tongue-shaped moraines appear to lick at the Penny Ice Cap on Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada. These moraines are debris that was plowed up and left behind by past glaciers
Another moraine left by a small glacier on Penny Ice Cap on Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada.
This year's aerial survey of the Penny Ice Cap glacier follows previous radar surveys done in 1995, 2000 and 2005 using the Airborne Topographic Mapper and CReSIS radar instrument.
Near Thule Air Base, sled dogs rest on the sea ice in North Star Bay. Behind them is the 700-foot-high Mount Dundas. Cities in Greenland are connected by ship and air, but shorter distances are crossed by snowmobile or dogsleds.
No, not another glacier, but an ice-covered fjord on Baffin Island near Davis Strait, which is in the distance. Baffin Island is the fifth largest island in the world.
This is a mosaic image of sea ice in the Beaufort Sea. The darkest zone is open water. Light blue zones are thick sea ice, while dark blue zones are thinner ice. The image was created by the Digital Mapping System (DMS) instrument aboard the IceBridge P-3B.
Icebergs crowd the sea ice of Jakobshavn Fjord, seen from NASA’s P-3B aircraft on the Apr. 4, 2013, IceBridge survey. Jakobshavn Glacier produces one in ten Greenland icebergs and is one of the fastest moving ice streams in the world.
NASA / DMS
Another view of the cracked Beaufort Sea ice by the Digital Mapping System (DMS) instrument aboard the IceBridge P-3B. The DMS uses a camera that points down through a window in the underside of the plane. It snaps a frame each second which are combined into a mosaic.
On April 8, 2013, science teacher Mark Buesing of Libertyville High School in Libertyville, Ill., shoots Greenland glaciers through the window of NASA's P-3B.
Eastern Greenland's Helheim Fjord is surveyed on April 5, 2013, from the NASA P-3B. Helheim is one of the largest in Greenland.
The P-3B sees its shadow on April 9, 2013, on the sea ice southeast of Greenland. Flying low altitude is all part of gathering detailed ice data.
Danish high school science teacher Jette Rygaard Poulsen watches the Greenland ice roll by from a window of the P-3B airborne laboratory on Apr. 8, 2013.
Not everything is icy in Greenland. Even as early as April 8, southwestern Greenland has ice free fjords.
An actively calving glacier front on the ocean in southwestern Greenland on April 8.
In two plots of topographic data from the Jakobshavn Glacier warmer colors are higher ice elevation. The calving front is at the transition from warm to cool colors. The difference between the two dates of survey reveal a loss of about 200 meters of ice.
It doesn't affect the ice, but there are some other interesting sights in Greenland this spring, like the aurora borealis over Kangerlussuaq.
NASA's Operation IceBridge campaign is officially underway in Antarctica, and researchers completed the mission's first science flight over the continent's icy expanse on Monday (Nov. 18), snapping a spectacular picture of the scenery while they were at it.
During their first research outing, IceBridge scientists surveyed glaciers as they flew over the Transantarctic Mountains, which extend 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) across the continent, and divide East Antarctica from West Antarctica. Today, the team is conducting a flight over Victoria Land, a mountainous region bordered by the Ross Sea to the east.
This is the first time that NASA's Operation IceBridge mission has been stationed in Antarctica. In previous seasons, IceBridge flights took off from Punta Arenas in southern Chile, but mission managers say that operating directly from the icy southern continent will enable scientists to conduct longer flights, and to explore regions of Antarctica that were out of range until now. [In Images: IceBridge Investigates Antarctica]
The IceBridge mission is designed to monitor the health of ice sheets, glaciers and sea ice from above both of Earth's poles. NASA's modified P-3B aircraft arrived at McMurdo Station in Antarctica last week, and the busy research season is already underway.
"Flying from Antarctica will allow us to survey areas that had been unreachable from Chile," Michael Studinger, IceBridge project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said in a statement. "There are many scientifically important areas we can now reach from McMurdo."
The researchers are aiming to complete daily survey flights over Antarctica through Nov. 26. In particular, Studinger is interested in observing ice streams on the Siple Coast, which runs along the edge of Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf.
"We know from spaceborne ice surface velocity measurements that some of the Siple Coast ice streams are changing, he explained. "But since 2009, we have had no laser altimeter measurements of ice surface elevations in this area."
An ice stream is a type of glacier that flows within an ice sheet. These enormous frozen rivers can flow at speeds of up to 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) per year, and can carve deep, narrow cracks in their path.
Instruments aboard the P-3B aircraft can track changes in ice elevation and thickness and can measure the shape of bedrock and water cavities beneath the ice, including detecting tiny changes in gravitational fields below the airborne observatory. These small perturbations can help researchers determine the depth and shape of water cavities beneath floating ice, according to NASA officials.
The airborne science mission is designed to fill the void between the defunct ICESat satellite and the planned ICESat-2, which is slated to launch in 2016.
Original article on LiveScience.
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