Wednesday, December 21, 2011

NASA's Antarctic 2011 IceBridge Campaign

The yellow lines on this map depict the flight path of NASA's DC-8 airborne science laboratory over the ice fields of the Weddell Sea off Antarctica's northern coast. A portion of the flight path lined up exactly with that of the European CryoSat-2 satellite that is also taking measurements of ice thickness. (NASA graphic / Michael Studinger)

After five successful long-duration data-collection flights over the past week, NASA's Operation IceBridge scientists and flight crew were scheduled to take a day off Oct. 19 before resuming another series of flights over the Antarctic ice fields and surrounding sea ice.

Including pre-mission instrument checkout flights and the transit flight from its base in Palmdale, Calif., to its deployment base at Punta Arenas, Chile, NASA's DC-8 airborne science laboratory had flown about 67 of the 250 flight hours allocated for the six-week campaign as of Tuesday morning. Most of the flights have been lasted about 11 hours, with three to four hours of on-site data collection and the remainder being transit time to and from Punta Arenas.

NASA's DC-8 airborne science laboratory soars over Dryden Flight Research Center on a test flight before its departure to Chile for the Fall 2011 IceBridge campaign 
NASA's DC-8 airborne science laboratory soars over Dryden Flight Research Center on a test flight before its departure to Chile for the Fall 2011 IceBridge campaign. Note the fairing on the bottom of the aircraft behind the wing that houses the MCoRDS multi-channel coherent radar depth sounder that helps determine ice thickness. (NASA / Kyle Krabill) 

On Monday, Oct.17, the DC-8 overflew the Getz Glacier during the fourth science flight in the Fall 2011 IceBridge campaign, following up on flights over the Pine Island Glacier and two over the Weddell Sea during the preceding week. At least two of the flights were coordinated with overflights of the CloudSat and the European Space Agency's CryoSat-2 satellites, which also collect data on thickness and movement of the Antarctic ice fields that cover about 98 percent of the continent.

This fall marks the third year of airborne data collection over the same general areas in Operation IceBridge. By comparing the year-to-year readings of ice thickness and movement both on land and on the sea, scientists can learn more about the trends that could affect sea-level rise and climate around the globe.

Operation IceBridge was begun in 2009 to bridge the gap in data collection after NASA's ICESat-1 satellite stopped functioning and when the ICESat-2 satellite becomes operational in 2016.

In addition to NASA's DC-8 flying laboratory, a Gulfstream V (G-V) operated by the National Science Foundation and the National Center for Atmospheric Research is participating in the Fall 2011 IceBridge mission. The G-V carries one instrument, a laser-ranging topography mapper, while the DC-8 carries seven instruments, including a laser altimeter and radars that can distinguish how much snow sits on top of sea ice and map the terrain of bedrock below thick ice cover.
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