NASA's C-20A Airborne Science research aircraft taxis in at Keflavik International Airport following a mission to study Icelandic ice caps. The six-hour mission landed shortly before midnight June 3 while the sun was still above the horizon. (NASA/ John McGrath) › View Larger Image
A NASA science aircraft carrying a specially designed synthetic aperture radar is currently in Iceland as part of a study to derive 3D surface velocity fields for two of the country's ice caps.
The C-20A, the military designation of the Gulfstream III business aircraft, is flying from Keflavik International Airport carrying NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) system mounted in a pod under the aircraft's belly. The UAVSAR uses a technique called interferometry to detect and measure very subtle deformations in Earth's surface.
NASA research pilot Troy Asher captured this view of central Iceland at 10:30 p.m. local time June 2 from NASA's C-20A Airborne Science research aircraft as it approached Keflavik International Airport. (NASA / Troy Asher) › View Larger Image The aircraft departed NASA's Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., June 1 and after an overnight stay in Bangor, Maine, arrived in Iceland the afternoon of June 2.
NASA pilot Troy Asher reported that a flight June 3 "was the first of a series of repeat missions over the next six days, on which we're gathering data to develop 3D surface velocity fields for Hofsjokull and Langjokull ice caps in central Iceland."
The data collected will provide insight into the yearly, seasonal, and daily variations of the glacier velocity and improve the understanding of the physics of a glacier flow. California Institute of Technology graduate student Brent Minchew and California Institute of Technology professor Mark Simons designed the study in collaboration with JPL's Scott Hensley.
In addition to airborne data collection, this study of Icelandic glaciers is employing a series of temporary GPS stations in selected areas on Langjokull, Iceland's second largest ice cap, which will provide data on glacier velocities. Portable meteorological stations will provide temperature and relative humidity on the glacier.
The NASA aircraft is scheduled to be in Iceland until June 12. It will then fly to Grand Forks, N.D., where the UAVSAR will collect soil moisture data sets to aid in the development and validation of algorithms for NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite that is planned for launched in 2014.