Operation IceBridge takes scientists to new heights (literally!) to collect aerial ice cover data to help us better understand how changes in polar ice connect to the broader global climate system. The six-year project is the largest airborne survey of polar ice ever. The long-term data scientists gather using specialized airplanes and instruments will supplement data collected by the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) and provide a 3-D view of earth’s rapidly changing ice cover. ICESat is currently orbiting earth measuring polar ice sheet mass, cloud cover, topography and vegetation.
Operation IceBridge scientist Michael Studinger is based at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center just outside Washington D.C. and travels to the Arctic and Antarctica for the project. He’s responsible for the overall scientific success of the project and oversees the planning and coordination of missions. The IceBridge field schedule is intense with annual March-May flights over Greenland and October-November operations in Antarctica based out of Punta Arenas, Chile. This month, Studinger shares some of the most recent IceBridge findings with field notes.
Please tell us about the 2012 field season in the Arctic–what types of data were collected and where did NASA researchers survey?
IceBridge utilizes a highly specialized fleet of research aircraft and the most sophisticated suite of innovative science instruments ever assembled to characterize annual changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers and ice sheets. In addition, IceBridge collects critical data used to predict the response of earth’s polar ice to climate change and resulting sea-level rise. IceBridge also helps bridge the gap in polar observations between NASA’s ICESat satellite missions. This year we collected data over sea ice in the Arctic Ocean and the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off of Alaska. We surveyed large parts of the Greenland ice sheet and glaciers and the Canadian ice caps.
What advantages are there to collecting airborne data about ice cover?
For starters it allows us to target scientifically interesting areas to get a more detailed look. Also, some of the instruments we use, such as the MCoRDS radar depth sounder and magnetometer, can’t really be used from space.