The Gulfstream-V operated by the National Science Foundation and National Center for Atmospheric Research departs Punta Arenas, Chile, for its fourth science flight in the Fall 2011 IceBridge campaign. The G-V carries the Laser Vegetation Imaging Sensor, a scanning laser altimeter that collects data on topography and vegetation coverage. The G-V flies at about 45,000 feet in order to optimize LVIS' ability to create finely detailed ice sheet elevation data and topography maps of key Antarctic glaciers. (NASA photo) › View Larger Image
IceBridge Flights Survey Peninsula, Weddell Sea
Relatively good weather conditions allowed scientists aboard NASA's DC-8 flying laboratory to survey a number of sites in Antarctica during a trio of productive long-duration science flights Oct. 21-24 as the Fall 2011 Operation IceBridge campaign continued.
Meanwhile, scientists aboard the smaller Gulfstream V aircraft operated by the National Science Foundation and the National Center for Atmospheric Research that is also participating in the IceBridge mission have been busy as well, collecting data with the Laser Vegetation Imaging Sensor, or LVIS, a laser-ranging topography mapper. Both aircraft are staging their flights from Punta Arenas, Chile, requiring long transit times to reach the areas targeted for the land and sea ice surveys.
With cooperative weather conditions Oct. 21, the DC-8 completed more than three hours of data collection over the Slosser 1 glacier south of the Weddell Sea area during an 11-hour flight. Mission managers reported scientists were able to achieve 100 percent of their data collection goals for the flight, including gauging glacial thickness and movement over the Shackleton and Theron mountain ranges.
Oct. 23 yielded a bonanza, as scientists aboard the airborne laboratory collected data from multiple science instruments for more than seven hours during a low-level science flight over the Bellingshausen Sea area.
The converted four-engine jetliner was back in the air Monday morning Oct. 24 on a 10.7-hour mission over the Alexander Island area in the Antarctic Peninsula, with the pilots carefully flying the aircraft over the same flight tracks flown in the 2009 and 2010 IceBridge campaign. Clear conditions allowed for excellent data collection by the Airborne Topographic Mapper and the Digital Mapping System, an airborne digital camera that acquires high-resolution natural color and panchromatic imagery, which scientists will now compare to data obtained in prior years.
During a portion of the long transit flight to Antarctica on Oct. 21, DC-8 mission manager Walter Klein from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center took time to communicate via satellite phone to eighth-grade students in science and technology classes at a middle school in San Ramon, Calif. The ultra-long-distance call allowed Klein to explain where they were during the flight, what the science means and why NASA is doing these kinds of flights.
Including pre-mission instrument checkout flights and the transit flight from its base in Palmdale, Calif., to its deployment base at Punta Arenas, Chile, NASA's DC-8 airborne science laboratory had flown about half of the 250 flight hours allocated for the six-week campaign as of Oct. 24. Most of the flights have lasted about 11 hours. Several of the flights were coordinated with overflights of the CloudSat and the European Space Agency's CryoSat-2 satellites, which also collect data on thickness and movement of the Antarctic ice fields that cover about 98 percent of the continent.
Operation IceBridge was begun in 2009 to bridge the gap in data collection after NASA's ICESat-1 satellite stopped functioning and when the ICESat-2 satellite becomes operational in 2016. By comparing the year-to-year readings of ice thickness and movement both on land and on the sea, scientists can learn more about the trends that could affect sea-level rise and climate around the globe.
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› Read Nathan Kurtz' IceBridge blog