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NASA Chat: Antarctic Fliers, Live!
11.18.10
 
Pilots fly the DC-8 research aircraft over the Weddell Sea on Oct. 26, 2010.Pilots Troy Asher (left) and Bill Brockett (right), of NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, flew the DC-8 research aircraft over the Weddell Sea on Oct. 26, 2010, during the first flight of NASA's Operation IceBridge Antarctic 2010 campaign.
Image Credit: Michael Studinger

Michael StudingerMichael Studinger, the project scientist for IceBridge Fall 2010, bundles up to keep warm.
Image Credit: Michael Studinger

Related Links
› IceBridge Mission
› @IceBridge Tweets
› IceBridge Blog
UPDATE: The IceBridge Web chat was held on Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 1 p.m. EST. The flight was scrubbed, but the chat still took place on Thursday from the mission's base in Punta Arenas, Chile.



Since Oct. 26, researchers have been making flights over Antarctica on NASA's DC-8 flying science laboratory to map ice surfaces and the features hidden below. Data collected are critical for understanding the dynamics of ice in West Antarctica and its impact on sea-level rise.

The flights are part of NASA's Operation IceBridge mission, wrapping up its second year of field campaigns at the end of November. The aircraft, crew and instrument teams are based in Punta Arenas, Chile, where they make flights -- weather permitting -- to the remote continent. Once there, teams operate any of the seven instruments to characterize the snow, ice, and bedrock.

On Wednesday, Nov. 17, On Thursday, Nov. 18, IceBridge scientists were on hand from the field answering your questions about the mission.

More About IceBridge Scientists and their workhorse, the DC-8

Project scientist Michael Studinger, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., makes sure missions run smoothly. The mission also includes scientists, crew and technicians from Goddard; Wallops Flight Facility, in Wallops Island, Va.; NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif.; NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.; The Earth Institute at Columbia University in Palisades, N.Y.; the University of Kansas; and the University of Washington.

NASA's DC-8 is a modified jetliner that supports instruments used to collect data for field research. Some instruments on the DC-8 complement measurements made by satellites, providing a close up look at specific regions, while other instruments are intended only for aircraft. The DC-8 has made Arctic and Antarctic flights in 2009 and 2010.



Transcript of the Chat

Jason (Moderator): We'll be starting here in a few minutes at the top of the hour. We're chatting with researchers in the field who can answer your questions about science flights over Antarctica. This is a moderated chat. To submit your own question, please type it in the box at the bottom of the window and click the 'Ask' button on the right side of the box. Thanks for your patience as we answer your questions.

Jason(Moderator): Welcome to the " Antarctic Fliers, Live!" Chatroom. We're chatting with researchers in the field who can answer your questions about science flights over Antarctica. This is a moderated chat. To submit your own question, please type it in the box at the bottom of the window and click the 'Ask' button on the right side of the box. Thanks for your patience as we answer your questions.

13schofieldc: Is there a way that we can see them flying?

NASA_DC-8: We're still waiting for a part for the aircraft so we are on the ground today

NASA_DC-8: The weather for Pine Island is good, but we're still waiting for the part. We hope to fly tomorrow.

nicopat: Hello, my question would be about wildlife: have you been able to spot any species while flying over the Antartic, or are you too high in the aire? Maybe birds? Thanks for your answer and for your work!

NASA_DC-8: Good question! No, we haven't seen any birds or other wildlife on this campaign. We make a point to avoid known wildlife areas, to avoid stressing the birds and mammals.

Jason(Moderator): We're working on answering the first few questions. To ask your own, please type it in the box at the bottom of the window and click the 'Ask' button on the right side of the box. Thanks for your patience as we answer your questions.

Davide_Joshua: how long you have train for fly in the antarctic?

NASA_DC-8: We have two scientists with us here today answering questions. Seelye Martin, of University of Washington, has been studying sea ice and icebergs for 25 years. Michael Studinger of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center has been studying land ice in Greenland and Antarctica for 15 years.

WonderKid: Is this a special plane your fly and how is it different from planes I can ride on as a passenger?

NASA_DC-8: The DC8 is a modified research aircraft. Research aviation is very different from typical passenger travel. Some seats have been removed and replaced with instrument consoles. You can see images and video of the DC8's interior at www.nasa.gov/icebridge

Mr._B: How do you take off on the ice?

NASA_DC-8: We do not take-off or land on ice.

Davide_Joshua: what are the most important aims of your job?

NASA_DC-8: Seelye: We're trying to measure the thickness of sea ice in the Weddell and the Bellingshausen/Amundsen seas using a variety of laser and radar instruments. That's important because we want to see if the ice thickness is changing with time. Michael: Likewise, our main goal is to measure changes in areas that area critical for ice sheet dynamics and stability, such as the northern Antarctic Peninsula and Pine Island Glacier

khayam: are you going to visit the macmurdo station?

NASA_DC-8: No, because we do not land on the ice.

Davide_Joshua: What about the instruments? If it's foggy how can you land safely?

NASA_DC-8: All of our flights originate from Punta Arenas, Chile. From there we transit down to our survey area in Antarctica. We do not land in Antarctica because we do not have skis on the aircraft. After we have collected data in the survey area we return home to Punta Arenas. Science instruments and the aircraft safety require good visibility for low-elevation flights in the survey area.

Nicopat: How long will you be working on data collected during these flights?

NASA_DC-8: Let's see .. initial processing will take about six months. Scientific analysis of the data will take about 1-2 years.

Jason(Moderator): We're working to answer your great questions. Keep them coming! To submit your own question, please type it in the box at the bottom of the window and click the 'Ask' button on the right side of the box. Thanks for your patience as we answer your questions.

WonderKid: How does this IceBridge trip differ from the other trips you've previously made?

NASA_DC-8: This is the first time we have gone back to several areas in Antarctica to resurvey flight lines that we flew for the first time last year. By repeating these lines we will see the changes in ice thickness with time.

Mr._B: At what altitude do you normally fly at when conducting research from the plane?

NASA_DC-8: We typically fly at 1,500 feet above the surface which is the optimum flight elevation for our laser and radar instruments. Our transit to and from Antarctica is done at 35,000 feet.

kmcelroy: From where do you take off and land and how long is a typical flight?

NASA_DC-8: We take off and land from Punta Arenas, Chile, which is the closest runway to Antarctica large enough for the DC8 aircraft.

World_of_Inquiry: what made you want to be a scientist.

NASA_DC-8: Michael: I have always been facinated by the beauty of the fragile polar landscape. This has captured my interest and stimulated my scientific curiosity. Seelye: When I was a little kid I really enjoyed being cold.

WonderKid: Do you need special training to fly on these planes?

NASA_DC-8: As a research sceintist, you need about half a day of safety training.

Mr._B: Do you have to wear any special gear when flying?

NASA_DC-8: Good question. We're required to wear sturdy footware and the flight crew and some instrument teams wear NASA flight suits made from fire suppressant materials

Mr._B: How long is a typical mission?

NASA_DC-8: A typical mission is about 11-hrs long.

Jason(Moderator): Do you have a question you've been waiting to ask? Go for it! To submit your own question, please type it in the box at the bottom of the window and click the 'Ask' button on the right side of the box. Thanks for your patience as we answer your questions.

Davide_Joshua: Hi, I'm 12 years old and my question would be about the studies I must to do for be an antarctic pilot or scientist.

NASA_DC-8: Seelye: Take as many math classes as you can, ask questions and be curious and interested in the natural world. See if you can find a group of friends who have a similar interest in science. It's a worthy goal.

WonderKid: Why are we studying ice in far away places rather than here in places like Alaska??

NASA_DC-8: IceBridge does fly over Alaska as well but not during this mission.

WonderKid: In one of your blog posts you talk about blue ice....I thought ice was white??

NASA_DC-8: Ice can be blue when it absorbs all other colors from the natural sunlight and reflects only blue. The reason why Antarctica appears white is because these are regions where snow covers the ice. In short, snow is white and ice is blue.

spacefan: Are you in the DC-8 Now?

NASA_DC-8: No we are currently ground due to a technical issue.

jbogo: Is there any historical data on ice thickness that you can compare these flight lines to? How long will you have to make these flyovers before the information is considered a significant trend-- and not annual variation?

NASA_DC-8: We have more than one decade of data in Antarctica and more than two decades of data in Greenland. Satellite radar altimetry data goes back to about 1991.

kmcelroy: What's the most interesting thing (ice form, cloud, etc) that you've seen on your flights? Or have any of these experiences surprised you in unexpected ways?

NASA_DC-8: Michael: It's so hard to choose, it's simply breathtaking to fly through rugged mountains covered by ice and incised by steep valleys filled with spectacular glaciers. Please check www.nasa.gov/icebridge for photos!

ss454ls61970: Is the plane heated or are you freezing up there?

NASA_DC-8: Both -- it depends where you are. The heat sources are unevenly distributed around the plane. On one flight, the water in the sinks in the restroom had frozen!

World_of_Inquiry: Whats one thing do you want to discover during this expedition?

NASA_DC-8: Weather to date has made it impossible to survey the Pine Island Glacier. We hope that before we leave we can resurvey Pine Island, which is of great scientific importance.

Jason(Moderator): We're working to answer your great questions. Keep them coming! To submit your own question, please type it in the box at the bottom of the window and click the 'Ask' button on the right side of the box. Thanks for your patience as we answer your questions.

NimRast: wich kinds of scientists does the team have?

NASA_DC-8: We have geophysicists, glaciologists, engineers and even one expert icebergologist!!

spacefan: What is the technical issue with the DC-8?

NASA_DC-8: We're waiting on a replacement fuel flow indicator.

NASA_DC-8: The fuel flow indicator measures fuel flow to the #3 engine and it's unsafe to take off without it!

jbogo: Do you fly directly over the Drake passage? What are the conditions in the air like?

NASA_DC-8: Great question, yes, we fly directly over the Drake Passage at an altitude of about 35,000 feet. We often encounter strong head or tail winds but it's typically a smooth ride.

WonderKid: Is it cold in Chile like it is in Antarctica?

NASA_DC-8: It's currently springtime in Chile and feels to be about 60 F. However, there can be strong winds, rain and sunshine at the same time. Southern Chile has a subpolar climate. Antarctica is much colder.

StephsFuelCell: How many flights will you try to complete this research season? Do you fly during other times of year too?

NASA_DC-8: We hope to complete two more flights before leaving Monday, bringing our total number to 10. From March to May we fly in the Arctic covering sea ice in the Arctic Ocean and glaciers in Greenland.

Jason(Moderator): Do you have a question you've been waiting to ask? Go for it! To submit your own question, please type it in the box at the bottom of the window and click the 'Ask' button on the right side of the box. Thanks for your patience as we answer your questions.

no1daredevil: What do you eat on an 11 hour mission?

NASA_DC-8: We provide our own lunches, which range from sandwiches and noodle soup to popcorn and oranges.

ss454ls61970: Based on the data you have collected so far does it seem that a raise in sea level is immanent and if so what size rise is expected (1mm or 30')

NASA_DC-8: We really don't know at this point. This is the kinds of questions we seek to answer with these mission.

Sondra_G: This question is for Michael - what college (or colleges) did you attend, and what are your degrees in?

NASA_DC-8: Michael: I have a Master's degree from the University of Munich. That degree is in geophysics. I also have a Doctoral degree in natural sciences from the University of Bremen and the Afred Wegner Institute for Polar Research.

B_Hagenauer: Did the DC-8's instruments change when the aircraft flew over the South Pole?

NASA_DC-8: They went a little wacky. Some of the instruments were overwhelmed by the sudden change in longitude when we flew over the South Pole.

no1daredevil: How is it different flying over Antarctica rather than Greenland?

NASA_DC-8: The first thing is Greenland has human settlements so we're able to operate out of airports right there. Antarctica is a much more extreme and remote environment

WonderKid: Are you all working for NASA?

NASA_DC-8: Seelye is employed by University of Washington and Michael is employed by University of Maryland, but both work for the NASA project. There are several other participating universities such as Kansas.

WonderKid: Since you are back a year later, can you see noticable differences??

NASA_DC-8: Not yet, the changes we observe are very subtle and will be only visible after we have carefully processed and analyzed our data and then compare it to previous measurements.

jmr908: Is the ice going to melt anymore?

NASA_DC-8: We honestly don't know which is why we are making these measurements.

spacefan: Is there a certain reason NASA uses the DC-8 versus other aircraft?

NASA_DC-8: First, very good question! The reason we use the DC-8 is that it is very strong. The wings will take stresses of at least 5 G. Also, it has a redundant control system, controllable both by computer and by cables linking the pilot to the flaps. So it could have a complete loss of power and still be flown. It's a sturdy workhorse!

Jason(Moderator): Do you have a question you've been waiting to ask? Go for it! To submit your own question, please type it in the box at the bottom of the window and click the 'Ask' button on the right side of the box. Thanks for your patience as we answer your questions.

StephsFuelCell: What makes Pine Island especially important for surveys?

NASA_DC-8: Most of the ice in western Antarctica is being drained through the Pine Island Glacier area and we see rapid changes happening there. This is the reason why we are so keen to go back this year and measure the ice surface topography to see how it has changed compared to previous years.

Zmure: What season is in Antarctica right now? Is it day or night?

NASA_DC-8: It is spring in Antarctica and most of the continent has 24-hrs of daylight right now.

no1daredevil: Would you come back to visit Antarctica on your own time?

NASA_DC-8: Private trips to Antarctica are very expensive, and a typical trip can cost about $45,000. Still, it's possible to experience a similar environment in the United States, particularly Alaska.

guest: How do you prioritize science targets when you have a forecast for clear weather? Is there one particular target this is the next top priority? Why?

NASA_DC-8: The science targets are prioritized by a science team and the wider community before we go into the field. We spend quite some time planning and prioritizing science missions before we actually deploy. In the field the decisions are typically dictated by the weather. Pine Island remains a very high priority for us because it's on the survey area we have not yet flown this year.

Sondra_G: Michael, as the Proect Scientist for the mission, what are your job responsibilities?

NASA_DC-8: Michael: As project scientist I am responsible that the project achieves the science goals. During the missions and here in the field, I am responsible for a go/no go decision for a flight and quick responses to weather and other changing conditions during the flight.

Jason(Moderator): We've got time for just a few more questions...

spacefan: Has there been any consideration as to a replacement to the DC-8?

NASA_DC-8: We have the entire fleet of NASA research aircraft available and we have chosen the DC8 for its range and load-carrying capability for the Antarctic missions. In the Arctic, we typically use an P-3B aircraft. Interestingly, we are also considering the use of unmanned aerial vehicles such as NASA's Global Hawk.

Jason(Moderator): Learn more about NASA's Global Hawk at: http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/Glopac/

guest: Michael, how have the instruments been performing this season? Did they have any difficulty in the turblent weather you had the other day?

NASA_DC-8: The instruments have performed exceptionally well. Some of them have actually performed much better than expected outside their design parameter range. For example, the Univ. of Kansas radar sounder was able to map the bedrock beneath South Pole from 39,000 feet and the ATM laser altimeter has also performed very well from high elevation. Turbulent weather does not cause any issues for the instruments.

WonderKid: How do conditions change throughout your flight? Have you ever had to change your plans midflight?

NASA_DC-8: Weather can change quickly and we occasionally have to change flight plans to successfully complete a mission.

Guest: Polar science sounds really interesting - what suggestions to do you for someone who wants to get into this line of work?

NASA_DC-8: A splendid question! Study science and mathematics and perhaps try some winter camping!

Zmure: Seelye what are your job responsabilities?

NASA_DC-8: Basically I work on the weather and certain administrative tasks.

WonderKid: How many scientists are flying with you?

NASA_DC-8: Roughly, there are about 18 scientists and engineers. There are eight flight crew members onboard the DC8.

Jason(Moderator): And now for out last question for today's chat...

brianrayclark: How often do you need to refill the DC-8?

NASA_DC-8: We burn a full tank of gas during each flight, with the exception of a 2-hr reserve, so we refuel before every flight.

Jason(Moderator): Thanks Michael Studinger and other IceBridge scientists for the great answers to everyone's questions. And thanks to Sophie Nowicki and Holly Zell at NASA Goddard for your assistance in relaying the questions and answers to the scientists in Chile. We appreciate your taking time out of your day to sit down with us. Our chat is over! Thanks for participating. A transcript will be available within 48 hours.