Washington — From mid-March through mid-May, researchers working on Operation IceBridge will spend a lot of the time in the air, as they fly daily missions over the planet’s most northern regions to collect data on sea and land ice.
NASA will run the flights out of Thule and Kangerlussuaq in Greenland to continue an almost decadelong period of data collection over the Arctic, gathering measurements of ice elevation, thickness and snow depth as key indicators of planetary climatic trends.
IceBridge will join efforts to validate and calibrate sea ice measurements by CryoSat-2, the European Space Agency’s ice-monitoring satellite. “Last year’s collaboration with ESA proved successful and this year is expected to provide even more data,” said IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger.
The U.S. space agency had a satellite of its own monitoring Arctic conditions for most of the last decade until the data-collection mechanisms on board the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) failed. Collection of data by the daily flights in Operation IceBridge is a substitute program, initiated to maintain the multiyear record of data until the launch of ICESat-2 in 2016.
The P-3 aircraft making the flights carries an array of instruments for measurements. The Airborne Topographic Mapper uses lasers to measure changes in surface elevation and then taps those readings to create elevation maps. Radar instruments reveal snow and ice thickness and allow scientists to see through land ice to the bedrock below. A gravimeter — an instrument to measure gravity — will help researchers determine water depth beneath floating ice.
Science teachers from the United States, Denmark and Greenland will participate in IceBridge for the first time. Educators will join IceBridge scientists in Kangerlussuaq with opportunities to participate in the flights and to review the data collected.
Operation IceBridge is the latest chapter in a research program that has contributed greatly to the scientific understanding of the ice-bound regions of the planet. The original ICESat measured Earth's surface and atmosphere in 3-D detail that never had been seen before. When ICESat stopped returning data, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, reported that the mission had been “an outstanding success,” making advances in measuring changes in the mass of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, polar sea ice thickness, vegetation-canopy heights, and the heights of clouds and aerosols.