Feature

Text Size

The Chills and Thrills of Ice
08.27.07
 
Who Are NASA's Earth Explorers?

The elementary school student wondering how El Niño will affect tomorrow's weather. The scientist studying connections between ozone and climate change. And the farmer using satellite pictures to keep track of crops. All of these people are Earth Explorers -- they are all curious about the Earth system. This series will introduce you to NASA Earth Explorers, young and old, with many backgrounds and interests.

 
Robert Bindschadler
What do you do when it's really cold outside? Some people like to stay indoors. They might cover themselves with warm blankets. Or they might sit by a fireplace and drink hot chocolate.

Image to left: Robert Bindschadler explores ice all over the world. Credit: Patricia Vornberger

Robert Bindschadler does the opposite. Robert is a NASA scientist. He travels to the coldest places on Earth. He sleeps outside in tents, even during heavy snow and strong winds. And do you know what else? He likes it!

"A lot of people think us crazy for what we do," Robert said. "Actually, the camping is a lot of fun."

Robert likes an adventure. But that's not the only reason he camps out in the cold. Robert braves the cold so he can explore ice. Robert has seen ice all over the world. He's been to Antarctica, Alaska, Iceland, Switzerland, New Zealand and Greenland.

Ice goes by different names, depending on where and how it forms:
--Glaciers are large rivers of ice on land. They move very slowly downhill.
--Ice shelves are those parts of glaciers that stick out over the ocean.
--Icebergs are large pieces of ice floating in the ocean.
--Sea ice is frozen ocean water.
Why do scientists care about ice? Earth has been getting warmer, which is causing some ice to melt. Melting ice can lead to rising ocean waters. Rising waters are a threat to people and buildings near the coast.

As the planet's temperature goes up, Robert tries to answer to these questions: Where and how quickly will ice melt? How much and how fast will ocean waters rise? What will happen to humans because of all this?

Robert isn't always out in the freezing cold. Sometimes he works indoors. He looks at pictures and other information from satellites. A man-made satellite is a machine in space that orbits Earth. Satellites can measure how ice on Earth is changing or moving.

Why study ice in person when satellites can see ice from space?

Related Resources
+ Windows to the Universe: Earth's Polar Regions

+ Previous Earth Explorers Articles
The answer is that it's important to observe ice from both the ground and space. Measurements by people on the ground help to make sure that satellites are measuring correctly from space. Also, some tasks can't be done from space, such as drilling into ice. Scientists drill into ice to measure how thick it is, or to study rocks below the ice.

What's next for Robert? He's planning to go to the Pine Island Ice Shelf in Antarctica. He says it would be "the most dangerous place I've ever worked." The ice shelf has lots of deep cracks. Also, there’s not much room to land an airplane or set up camp.

Robert is excited about the trip. He says that the chance to learn more about ice makes the trip worth the risk.

 
 
Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies