IceBridge - Antarctic 2013
IceBridge Wraps Up Successful Antarctic Campaign
Edge of the Ross Ice Shelf seen from the NASA P-3 on the return flight from McMurdo Station on Nov. 28, 2013. Credit: NASA / Jim Yungel
Operation IceBridge's 2013 Antarctic campaign came to a close after NASA's P-3 research aircraft returned to its home base, NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va., on Dec. 3. During the mission's three-week-long campaign, which was delayed and shortened due to October's U.S. federal government shutdown, researchers completed five of seven possible science flights.
Flying the P-3 from the sea ice runway at the National Science Foundation's McMurdo Station meant that researchers could survey parts of Antarctica that were unreachable in previous campaigns. From Punta Arenas, Chile, NASA's DC-8 airborne laboratory can reach portions of the Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctica after transiting the Drake Passage. The P-3 lacks the range to make these flights, but is better suited for flying from McMurdo's ice runway than the DC-8.
Flying from McMurdo also meant the P-3 was able to start collecting data right after takeoff. "During the five missions from McMurdo we have collected data 96 percent of the time," said Michael Studinger, IceBridge project scientist of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
On these five flights, IceBridge collected data on many facets of Antarctic land and sea ice. IceBridge's laser altimeter, the Airborne Topographic Mapper or ATM, collected ice elevation data along paths previously measured by NASA's Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite, or ICESat, in 2009. In addition, ATM measured several key areas that will be used to ensure that the laser altimeter aboard NASA's ICESat-2, scheduled for launch in 2017, is taking accurate readings.
Other instruments aboard the P-3 also helped build a clearer view of changing Antarctic ice. The Multichannel Coherent Radar Depth Sounder, or MCoRDS, operated by the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, is a radar instrument that can measure ice thickness, detect internal layering in the ice and map the bedrock below. During one portion of the mission over the Transantarctic Mountains, MCoRDS found a bed depth that differed from the existing Antarctic dataset, Bedmap2. This is largely because of a shortage of airborne radar measurements in this region. On another flight, MCoRDS collected data that will help researchers connect layers in the ice between two deep ice core drill sites high on the Antarctic plateau.
In addition to land ice, IceBridge also took measurements of sea ice in the Ross Sea, an area that has seen comparatively little attention compared to other parts of the Southern Ocean. With one dedicated sea ice flight, a portion of another survey and the return flight from McMurdo to Christchurch, New Zealand, instruments on the P-3 collected data on sea ice elevation and thickness of snow on top of the ice.
Members of the IceBridge team greet the NASA P-3 after its first landing on McMurdo Station’s sea ice runway. Credit: NASA / Jefferson Beck.
After the P-3's departure on Nov. 28, the remaining members of the IceBridge team began packing the instrument ground stations that ensure aircraft instrument accuracy and computer gear used to process data in the field, before boarding a ski-equipped LC-130 transport plane, flown by the 109th Airlift Wing, on the way back to New Zealand.
Running a successful campaign in a remote and busy scientific station like McMurdo took lots of planning and meant that IceBridge mission planners had to build and maintain relationships with people from a variety of different groups to make sure the P-3 could operate from the sea ice runway, that mission planners had up-to-date weather data, and that the entire team, which is larger than many expeditions at McMurdo, had the support they needed.
These relationships, built during the 18 month run-up to the campaign, will likely make things even smoother for the scheduled return of the mission to McMurdo in 2015. Next year, the P-3 will undergo scheduled maintenance, making it unavailable for the Antarctic campaign. Because of this, IceBridge will fly the DC-8 out of Punta Arenas in 2014.
Even with the P-3 back home and the rest of the team on the way, the work didn't stop. On Monday, Dec. 9, the P-3 is scheduled to fly a post-campaign calibration mission at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The purpose of that flight is to compare readings from before and after the Antarctic deployment to ensure instrument accuracy. While that is happening, IceBridge mission planners already have their eyes on the next campaign, a deployment to Greenland and Alaska starting in March 2014.
One More Mission and Off the Ice
A view of the Transantarctic Mountains from the NASA P-3 airborne laboratory during IceBridge’s Nov. 27, 2013 survey. Credit: NASA / Michael Studinger
The IceBridge team closed out its shortened 2013 Antarctic campaign with a full day of data collection before the NASA P-3 left McMurdo's sea ice runway a day ahead of schedule in order to avoid bad weather. After returning from the successful Nov. 26 flight over the Siple Coast, the IceBridge team held their evening meeting and weather briefing, discussing which areas could be possible survey targets the next day.
On Nov. 27, the morning weather update showed clear conditions around McMurdo and good weather in a few different survey areas. Mission planners decided to maximize their data collection by flying one of the highest priority flights, a survey of thick ice in East Antarctica between Dome C, one of the high points of the Antarctic Ice Sheet at 10,607 feet (3,233 meters) above sea level, and the Russian Antarctic base of Vostok.
Shortly after takeoff the P-3 reached the Barwick Valley in the Transantarctic Mountains. In this area is a site that will be used to calibrate and validate the laser altimeter aboard NASA's ICESat-2 after it launches in 2017. Calibration and validation is the process of ensuring a new instrument is collecting good data by comparing its measurements to that of an instrument of known accuracy, in this case the Airborne Topographic Mapper.
French-Italian research base Concordia Station at Dome C, one of the Antarctic Ice Sheet’s highest points. Credit: NASA / Michael Studinger
The rest of the day involved taking readings beneath the ice. After collecting data over subglacial lakes, the P-3 flew over the French-Italian research base Concordia Station at Dome C. Both Dome C and Vostok are home to deep ice core drill sites and this mission was designed to connect the two drill sites using the Multichannel Coherent Radar Depth Sounder. Data from this ice penetrating radar will be used to trace internal layering in the ice between the drill sites. In addition, the radar was able to detect the bedrock beneath this ice, which is more than 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) thick in some places.
After reaching Vostok, the P-3 headed off to the Transantarctic Mountains to survey several more ice core drill sites and another ICESat-2 calibration and validation track before collecting sea ice data on the way back to McMurdo Station. The data collected on sea ice will be used to check the accuracy of the onboard Ku-band and snow radar over Antarctic sea ice.
The plan for Nov. 28 was to fly one more survey before the P-3 left on Friday. But the morning weather briefing changed those plans when forecasts showed a system with high winds moving into the McMurdo area in the early afternoon. Planners then made the decision to send the P-3 back to Christchurch, New Zealand, with the aircraft's flight crew and six instrument operators on board. After taking off, the P-3 followed a path taken by the European Space Agency's CryoSat-2 satellite on the way to Christchurch, collecting nearly four hours of scientific data along the way.
With the P-3 on its way back to NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, the remaining members of the IceBridge team began clearing out the airfield tents, breaking down instrument ground stations and packing up cargo that will be shipped back to the United States. After that is done the team will pack their bags and board a ski-equipped LC-130 transport plane operated by the 109th Airlift Wing to begin the long journey back home.
IceBridge Surveys Siple Coast
Crevasses in the MacAyeal Ice Stream (formerly Ice Stream E) on Antarctica’s Siple Coast east of the Ross Ice Shelf captured by the Digital Mapping System camera aboard NASA’s P-3 airborne laboratory on a Nov. 26, 2013, IceBridge research flight. Credit: NASA / Eric Fraim
IceBridge researchers returned to their task of data collection after a four-day-long stretch on the ground due to weather cancelations and McMurdo Station's observed Thanksgiving holiday. With the return of good weather on Nov. 26, the P-3B research aircraft took off for a survey of ice streams along the Siple Coast east of the Ross Ice Shelf.
On Nov. 21, the IceBridge team closed out a successful day of surveying sea ice in the Ross Sea with their usual evening meeting and weather briefing. The forecast released just before the meeting showed less-than-promising conditions for the next few days with a low pressure system expected to move into the McMurdo area in the afternoon, bringing high winds. The next morning, IceBridge mission planners decided the risk of returning to McMurdo to face strong crosswinds and blowing snow was too high and canceled the day's flight.
The next possible day to fly was Monday, Nov. 25, as the McMurdo airfield was closed for the weekend's Thanksgiving events. Early in the morning, IceBridge mission planners did their daily check with the McMurdo weather office to find more high winds in the forecast and called off that day's flight. Later in the day at the evening team meeting, the weather outlook showed promise for the next day.
Clear blue skies and the flat expanse of Antarctic ice seen from the NASA P-3 research aircraft during the Nov. 26, 2013, survey of ice streams on the Siple Coast. Credit: NASA / Jim Yungel
The morning of Nov. 26, the news from the weather office showed poor conditions over the Ross Sea, eliminating any sea ice flight choices, and clouds over parts of the Antarctic Plateau that would block instruments there. With this information in hand, mission planners decided to fly across the Ross Ice Shelf to survey ice streams – portions of the ice sheet that move faster than surrounding ice – moving from the Siple Doam into the ice shelf, a region known as the Siple Coast.
After takeoff and a pass between White and Black Islands near McMurdo, the P-3 crossed the Ross Ice Shelf and turned to follow a track last measured by NASA's Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation satellite, or ICESat. Satellite ice velocity measurements show these ice streams speeding up, but less is known about how their elevation has changed since ICESat stopped functioning in 2009. "Today's data are an important data point in a long time-series of elevation change," said Michael Studinger, IceBridge project scientist.
IceBridge is looking at a couple more flight opportunities before the P-3 is scheduled to leave Antarctica followed a few days later by the rest of the team on Dec. 2.
Three in a Row for NASA's IceBridge
Antarctic volcano Mount Erebus seen over the NASA P-3's right wing during the approach to McMurdo Station's sea ice airfield following an IceBridge survey of sea ice in the Ross Sea on Nov. 21, 2013. Credit: NASA / Jim Yungel
Researchers with NASA's Operation IceBridge kicked off this year's Antarctic campaign with three consecutive science flights. These surveys filled in gaps in data on Antarctic ice by covering areas that are both new to IceBridge and unreachable by the smaller research aircraft that normally fly from the National Science Foundation's McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
The size and range of NASA's P-3 means it can carry an instrument suite and fly a distance equivalent to multiple flights with smaller aircraft. "My hope is that we have started a new era of airborne science in Antarctica," said Michael Studinger, IceBridge's project scientist.
On the morning of Nov. 19, following a short airfield familiarization flight the day before, aircraft crew ventured out to McMurdo's sea ice airfield and IceBridge mission planners and the P-3 pilot-in-command headed to the station's weather office to look at the day's forecast. With low clouds forecast for the Ross Sea the team decided on a survey over the Transantarctic Mountains.
During this eight hour survey, researchers followed the western side of the Transantarctic Mountains, flying two coast-parallel survey lines spaced about 12 miles (20 kilometers) apart. This will allow scientists to build a fluxgate, which is essentially a cross-section that shows how much ice is moving through glaciers in the region.
In addition to these straight lines, the P-3 flew centerline surveys of portions of the Beardmore, Nimrod and Lennox-King glaciers, gathering data that will help bridge the gap between ICESat and ICESat-2 to build a multi-decade time series of elevation changes.
This survey also helped improve existing knowledge by surveying an area that has seen little coverage with ice-penetrating radar. Readings from the Multichannel Coherent Radar Depth Sounder, operated by the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets at the University of Kansas, showed ice thicknesses different from what is in the current most comprehensive dataset of Antarctic ice thickness known as Bedmap2.
The next morning, Nov. 20, the P-3 took off for a survey of Victoria Land on the northern coast following a delay due to a small mechanical issue that was quickly resolved. "One of the reasons for the tremendous success of IceBridge is the outstanding flight crew we have on the P-3," said Studinger.
On this survey, the P-3 sampled three ICESat tracks and collected elevation data on three glaciers there. Along the way, IceBridge flew over a calibration and validation site for ICESat and ICEsat-2 in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, sticking to a higher altitude to ensure they stayed above the minimum elevation allowed for flying over the Antarctic Specially Protected Area.
At the next morning's weather meeting, mission planners saw more favorable conditions over the Ross Sea, so on Nov. 21 IceBridge took off on the highest priority mission of the campaign, a survey of Ross Sea ice. This flight called for two parallel 870 mile (1400 kilometer) fluxgate lines across the northern Ross Sea. This mission gathered data on an area of sea ice that has seen little study and will complement a ship-based survey of the region slated for 2015.
All good things come to an end and good weather turned bad on Nov. 22 with forecasts of high winds and snow coming later in the day. Deciding when it's safe to fly requires accurate forecasting, which IceBridge has come to rely on the McMurdo weather office for. In addition, airfield personnel and the various other professionals who keep McMurdo running have helped make this campaign a reality. "Whether in McMurdo, at the airfield, or back home in the U.S. the professional support we get from the US Antarctic program is outstanding," said Studinger.
McMurdo closes its airfield for both Saturday and Sunday for the station's Thanksgiving festivities, which are being celebrated the weekend before. With three more potential flying days ahead and hopes for good weather, the IceBridge team looks ahead to a return to the air next week.
NASA Begins First Antarctic Airborne Campaign from McMurdo Station
NASA's P-3 airborne laboratory on the sea ice ramp at the National Science Foundation's McMurdo Station in Antarctica with Mount Erebus, one of Antarctica's active volcanoes, in the background. Credit: NASA / George Hale
NASA's Operation IceBridge has begun its 2013 Antarctic field campaign with the arrival of the agency's aircraft and scientists at the National Science Foundation's McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
The IceBridge mission will conduct daily survey flights through Nov. 26 on a NASA P-3 research aircraft from a base of operations at McMurdo Station. The P-3 usually is based at the agency's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. As part of a multi-year project, researchers are collecting data on Antarctic land and sea ice. Previous IceBridge Antarctic missions were conducted out of Punta Arenas, Chile.
"Flying from Antarctica will allow us to survey areas that had been unreachable from Chile," said Michael Studinger, IceBridge project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "There are many scientifically important areas we can now reach from McMurdo."
IceBridge Prepares for Mission of "Firsts" in Antarctica
The IceBridge team arrived at McMurdo Station Nov. 12 aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport aircraft. Credit: NASA/George Hale
NASA Wallops' P-3 Orion Airborne Science Platform departed Nov. 11, 2013 on a five day trip to McMurdo Station in Antarctica in support of Operation IceBridge. This mission marks the first time IceBridge has operated directly from Antarctica.
Members of the IceBridge team arrived at McMurdo Station Nov. 12, 2013 aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport aircraft. Over the next few days they'll set up ground stations and prepare for the P-3's arrival.
The C-17s that fly to and from Antarctica are operated by the U.S. Air Force's 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Seattle.
You can follow the P-3’s progress using the NASA's Airborne Science Program Asset Tracker.
Change of Venue for NASA's IceBridge Antarctic Operations
View of McMurdo Station from Hut Point. Credit: NASA / Christy Hansen
This fall, NASA's Operation IceBridge will base its annual Antarctic campaign out of National Science Foundation's McMurdo Station, a change from the mission's previous four campaigns that were based in Punta Arenas, Chile. By switching bases of operations, IceBridge will be able to expand its reach by measuring parts of Antarctica previously unavailable to the mission.
"Antarctica is a big place and there are many science targets for us to hit," said Tom Wagner, cryosphere program scientist at NASA headquarters, Washington. This change comes after nearly a year of planning and collaboration between NASA and the National Science Foundation or NSF, to ensure that the station could support IceBridge's personnel, equipment and aircraft requirements.
More IceBridge Multimedia
View and download IceBridge edited features, animations, footage and more from the Scientific Visualization Studio at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.