From the Land of Ice and Snow

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Views from the window of NASA’s DC-8 reveal sweeping expanses of ice and rock as part of the ongoing 2011 Operation IceBridge survey of Antarctica’s ice cover.

Now in its third season, Operation IceBridge is a six-year-long mission to study the dynamics of the Antarctic and Arctic ice sheets. It’s the largest ever aerial survey of the polar ice and will yield valuable data on the state of Earth’s vast reservoirs of frozen water, including the land and sea underneath and how they are being affected by today’s rapidly changing climate.

The ridges of the Shackleton Range cast shadows onto Antarctica's ice. Credit: Michael Studinger/NASA.

Researchers – like Michael Studinger, who took the incredible photos seen here –  fly over Greenland during the months of March through May and over Antarctica in October and November. NASA’s instrument-laden DC-8 flies over these remote locations at a low altitude of about 1,500 feet, often with little or no advance weather data.

98 percent of Antarctica is covered with ice. Information obtained by Operation IceBridge will be combined with satellite data to create the most accurate models possible of Antarctic ice loss and how it will affect future sea level rise.

Mountains piled with snow and ice rise above the clouds on Alexander Island. Credit: Michael Studinger/NASA.

This season’s Antarctic IceBridge campaign features NASA’s DC-8, at 157 feet long the largest plane in the agency’s airborne research fleet, and will also feature the debut of the Gulfstream V (G-V) operated by the National Science Foundation and National Center for Atmospheric Research.

While the DC-8 flies at low altitudes, the G-V will fly above 30,000 feet to utilize its Land, Vegetation and Ice Sensor (LVIS), which makes detailed topographic studies of the surface.

“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.”

– Michael Studinger, IceBridge project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The wing of NASA's DC-8 cuts across the frozen expanse of the Brunt Ice Shelf, with its 100-foot-high cliff face. Credit: Michael Studinger/NASA.

Read more about Operation IceBridge here.

Jason Major

A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

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