As the DC-8 Flying Laboratory passes over Ellsworth Range, Antarctica, Mount Vinson is seen in the center of the picture's background. The mountain rises to an altitude of more than 16,000 feet, making it the highest point on Antarctica. (NASA/Michael Studinger)
Researchers with NASA's Operation IceBridge recently completed a five-week field campaign based out of Punta Arenas, Chile. From Oct. 12 to Nov. 8, IceBridge researchers gathered valuable information on land and sea ice during 16 science missions over Antarctica. During this year's Antarctic campaign - the fourth in the mission's history - IceBridge scientists added to existing sea ice elevation data, surveyed new areas of the Antarctic ice sheet and reached out to students, teachers and the public.
Missions were flown aboard NASA's DC-8 aircraft, which has its home base at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale. When the DC-8 returned to the DAOF, IceBridge instrument teams began downloading data gathered during the campaign. The next step is to process, analyze and prepare the information for the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado.
A portion of the campaign's flights focused on areas of Antarctic sea ice that were previously surveyed by IceBridge and NASA and European Space Agency satellites. By taking repeated measurements of ice surface elevation, IceBridge is building a record of change in the Antarctic. In addition to ice surface elevation, IceBridge used its suite of instruments ranging from ice-penetrating radar to a gravimeter to measure ice thickness, measure the depth and shape of water beneath ice shelves and map sub-glacial bedrock.
Including this year's IceBridge campaign, researchers have surveyed about 5,000 miles of Antarctic ice sheet grounding line during the past four years. That covers most of West Antarctica and some of East Antarctica. An ice sheet's grounding line is the point where ice transitions from being supported by land to floating on water. "Surveying such a large fraction of the grounding line of the Antarctic continent should greatly facilitate scientific understanding of Antarctic ice mass balance," said Airborne Topographic Mapper scientist John Sonntag.
The DC-8 is pictured on the ramp in Punta Arenas, Chile, during the IceBridge mission as a storm brews in the skies above. (Courtesy of Stefan Elieff)
IceBridge also achieved goals in the realms of educational outreach and science diplomacy by providing a research opportunity for two Chilean teachers, personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, including U.S. Ambassador to Chile Alejandro Wolff, and researchers from the Chilean Antarctic Institute. On the Nov. 1 flight over the Ronne Ice Shelf Chilean newspaper reporter Paula Lopez and science teachers Mario Esquivel and Carmen Gallardo joined IceBridge. During the mission, the teachers were able to get a birds-eye view of Antarctica and talk to IceBridge researchers. This flight experience gives the teachers new material to inspire and educate their students.
The 2012 Antarctic campaign also saw the use of a new online portal that allowed IceBridge researchers and students in nine U.S. states and three cities in Chile to chat in real time via the DC-8's satellite communication system. The text-based online chats let students ask questions about IceBridge, Antarctica and polar science, which personnel on the DC-8 were able to answer during the flight. Thanks to this tool, IceBridge was able to communicate with 49 classrooms and reach 728 students.
This year's Antarctic campaign owes its success to the hard work of the science instrument operators, people who maintain and fly the DC-8, and ground support and weather office personnel at the Punta Arenas airport. "I personally see wonderful people that work for IceBridge as the main reason why IceBridge is so successful," said IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger.