NASA’s Operation IceBridge In Search Of Ice Change In Arctic

How much is the polar ice melting, and how are the sheets being affected by climate change? These are some of the questions that NASA’s Operation IceBridge seeks to answer. You can see a quick overview of the mission in the video above.

“IceBridge, a six-year NASA mission, is the largest airborne survey of Earth’s polar ice ever flown,” NASA stated in the YouTube description accompanying the video.

“It will yield an unprecedented three-dimensional view of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, ice shelves and sea ice. These flights will provide a yearly, multi-instrument look at the behavior of the rapidly changing features of the Greenland and Antarctic ice,” the agency added.

The aerial survey is intended to supplement information from NASA’s Ice Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), which has been orbiting Earth since 2003, and the forthcoming ICESat-2 that is expected to launch in early 2016.

The surveys started in 2009 and are expected to wrap up in 2016. This year’s field season runs from about March to May. For more information on IceBridge, check out this 2013 Universe Today article by Ken Kremer.

NASA’s Operation IceBridge Surveys Greenland and Earth’s Polar Ice Sheets

NASA’s Operation IceBridge has begun the 2013 research season of Ice Science flights in Greenland and the Arctic to survey the regions ice sheets and land and sea ice using a specially equipped P-3B research aircraft from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va.

Operation IceBridge began in 2009 as part of NASA’s six-year long effort to conduct the largest airborne survey of Earth’s polar ice ever flown.

The goal is to obtain an unprecedented three-dimensional, multi-instrument view of the behavior of Greenland, Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, ice shelves and sea ice which have been undergoing rapid and dramatic changes and reductions.

“We’re starting to see how the whole ice sheet is changing,” said Michael Studinger, IceBridge project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Thinning at the margins is now propagating to the interior.”

The P-3 exiting the hanger pre-flight in Thule. Credit: NASA
The P-3 exiting the hanger pre-flight in Thule. Credit: NASA

The airborne campaign was started in order to maintain a continuous record of measurements in changes in polar ice after NASA’s Earth orbiting ICESat (Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite) probe stopped collecting data in 2009.

ICESat-2 won’t be launched until 2016, so NASA’s IceBridge project and yearly P-3 airborne campaigns will fill in the science data gap in the interval.

The P-3B Orion just arrived from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia where I visited it before departure – see my P-3B photos herein.

NASA IceBridge P-3B research aircraft prepares for departure from runway at NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia to Thule Air Base in Greenland.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
NASA IceBridge P-3B research aircraft prepares for departure from runway at NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia to Thule Air Base in Greenland. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

IceBridge is operating out of airfields in Thule and Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and Fairbanks, Alaska.

The P-3B survey flights over Greenland and the Arctic will continue until May. They are conducted over Antarctica during October and November.

A sunny view of the ramp at Thule Air Base, Greenland, shortly after the NASA P-3B research aircraft arrived on Mar. 18, 2013. Credit: NASA / Jim Yungel
A sunny view of the ramp at Thule Air Base, Greenland, shortly after the NASA P-3B research aircraft arrived on Mar. 18, 2013. Credit: NASA / Jim Yungel

The measurements collected by IceBridge instruments will characterize the annual changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets. The data are used to help predict how climate change affects Earth’s polar ice and the resulting rise in sea-levels.

Researchers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are collaborating with the IceBridge project to collect snow depth measurements near Barrow , Alaska. High school science teachers from the US, Denmark and Greenland will fly along on the P-3B survey flights to learn about polar science.

NASA Wallops has a wide ranging research and development mission and is home to the Virginia launch pad for the new Antares/Cygnus commercial ISS resupply rocket set for its maiden launch in mid April 2013; detailed in see my new story – here.

Ken Kremer

Sea ice in the southern Beaufort Sea. Credit: NASA
Sea ice in the southern Beaufort Sea. Credit: NASA
IceBridge departing to Fairbanks to start their sea ice flights that will cover the Beauford and Chukchi seas - via the Laxon sea ice route for the transit. Credit: NASA
IceBridge departing to Fairbanks to start their sea ice flights that will cover the Beauford and Chukchi seas – via the Laxon sea ice route for the transit. Credit: NASA