Researchers are flying a suite of scientific instruments on two planes from a base of operations in Punta Arenas, Chile: a DC-8 operated by NASA and a Gulfstream V (G-V) operated by the National Science Foundation and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. The G-V will fly through early November.
“With a third year of data-gathering underway, we are starting to build our own record of change,” said Michael Studinger, IceBridge project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “With IceBridge, our aim is to understand what the world’s major ice sheets could contribute to sea-level rise. To understand that you have to record how ice sheets and glaciers are changing over time.”
The DC-8 carries seven instruments, including a laser altimeter to continue the crucial ice sheet elevation record begun by the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) mission, which ended in 2009. The flying laboratory also will carry radars that can distinguish how much snow sits on top of sea ice and map the terrain of bedrock below thick ice cover.
A gravimeter aboard the DC-8 will detect subtle differences in gravity to map the ocean floor beneath floating ice shelves. Data on bathymetry, or ocean depth, and ocean circulation from previous IceBridge campaigns are helping explain why some glaciers are changing so quickly.
Flights take off from Punta Arenas and cross the Southern Ocean to reach destinations including West Antarctica, the Antarctic Peninsula and coastal areas. Each lasts 10 to 11 hours.
“We will be re-surveying our previous flight lines to see how much glaciers and ice sheets have changed, and we’ll cover new areas to establish a baseline for future years and the ICESat-2 mission in 2016,” Studinger said.
Other high priority flight lines follow ground traverses being made this year and next, during which NASA scientists will travel different sections of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, measuring snowfall accumulation and the characteristics of Pine Island Glacier.
Many flight lines will retrace either previous ICESat-1 tracks or future ICESat-2 tracks. Some also will align with current observations made by the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite. The overlapping flight lines and satellite tracks ultimately will help scientists improve the accuracy of their data.
NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., is responsible for IceBridge project management. The DC-8 is based at NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif.
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