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The Larsen Ice Shelf in Antarctica viewed from NASA’s DC-8 aircraft during the AirSAR 2004 campaign

The Larsen Ice Shelf in Antarctica viewed from NASA's DC-8 aircraft during the AirSAR 2004 campaign. AirSAR 2004 is a three-week expedition in Central and South America by an international team of scientists that is using an all-weather imaging tool, called the Airborne Synthetic Aperture Radar (AirSAR), located onboard NASA's DC-8 airborne laboratory. Scientists from many parts of the world are combining ground research with NASA's AirSAR technology to improve and expand on the quality of research they are able to conduct. These photos are from the DC-8 aircraft while flying an AirSAR mission over Antarctica. The Antarctic Peninsula is more similar to Alaska and Patagonia than to the rest of the Antarctic continent. It is drained by fast glaciers, receives abundant precipitation, and melts significantly in the summer months. In recent decades, the Peninsula has experienced significant atmospheric warming (about 2 degrees C since 1950), which has triggered a vast and spectacular retreat of its floating ice shelves, glacier reduction, a decrease in permanent snow cover and a lengthening of the melt season. As a result, the contribution to sea level from this region could be rapid and substantial. With an area of 120,000 km, or ten times the Patagonia ice fields, the Peninsula could contribute as much as 0.4mm/yr sea level rise, which would be the largest single contribution to sea level from anywhere in the world. This region is being studied by NASA using a DC-8 equipped with the Airborne Synthetic Aperture Radar developed by scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. AirSAR will provide a baseline model and unprecedented mapping of the region. This data will make it possible to determine whether the warming trend is slowing, continuing or accelerating. AirSAR will also provide reliable information on ice shelf thickness to measure the contribution of the glaciers to sea level.

Image Credit: NASA/Jim Ross