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.
Extremes of fire and ice ravaged homes on different ends of North America recently.
In the north, a wall of ice 9 meters (30 feet) high plowed through Ochre Beach in Manitoba, Canada on May 10. No one was injured, but the ice destroyed 12 homes and damaged another 15, reported Sky News. Strong winds pushed the frigid bulldozer of ice from Dauphin Lake onto the lakefront properties.
“The whole thing happened in about 10 minutes,” Clayton Watts, deputy reeve of the rural municipality of Ochre River, told the Winnipeg Free Press. “We had people barbecuing on their decks. They turned around to go inside to get something, they came back out and their decks were ripping apart.”
“There is a concern that, you know, we’re just not going to have this community here now…” Watts told Global News. “It’s a big hit out of their budget and their retirement plans. … Some just don’t know how they’re going to survive.”
Similarly, another wall of ice crept towards homes and a resort on the shores of Lake Mille Lacs in Minnesota on Saturday, reported WCCO, a local CBS station. Damages from this second wind-driven mini-glacier were less extreme than in Canada.
In the south, wildfires struck early in California this year. Six hundred-eighty wildfires have roared though the state so far this year, 200 more than average, reported Fox News. By the middle of last week, firefighters had gained control of a blaze that incinerated 44 square miles of forest in the Santa Monica Mountains. That fire damaged 15 homes.
Another fire burned 11 square miles of wilderness in Tehama County in northern California last week. Earlier in the month, a fire in the Camarillo Springs area threatened Malibu but was brought under control before it destroyed a single home, according to the Huffington Post.
IMAGE: Video grab via BBC