IceBridge - Antarctic 2014

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IceBridge - Antarctic 2014

NASA's IceBridge Antarctic Campaign Wraps Up

A cloud’s shadow on crevassed Antarctic ice› View larger
A view from an IceBridge survey flight on Nov. 3, 2014, showing a cloud’s shadow on crevassed Antarctic ice. Credit: NASA / George Hale

NASA’s Operation IceBridge recently completed its 2014 Antarctic campaign, marking the mission’s sixth set of flights over Antarctica. During the six-week-long deployment from Punta Arenas, Chile, researchers aboard NASA’s DC-8 airborne laboratory measured land and sea ice from above to continue building a record of change in the Antarctic.

The campaign began on Oct. 16, with a flight aimed at measuring sea ice in the Weddell Sea. This first flight – like many that followed – was a repeat mission, covering areas that IceBridge studied in previous campaigns. The repeat flights this year were of particular importance because it has been two years since IceBridge was last in Punta Arenas.

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IceBridge Campaign Closes with Four More Flights

A rock outcrop and ice near Antarctica’s Fleming Glacier.› View larger
A rock outcrop and ice near Antarctica’s Fleming Glacier seen during the Nov. 16, 2014, IceBridge survey flight. Credit: NASA / Michael Studinger

NASA’s Operation IceBridge completed four more surveys of the Antarctic, bringing the mission’s six-week-long field campaign to a close.

On Nov. 15, IceBridge carried out a newly-created mission designed to study the Institute Ice Stream near the Ronne Ice Shelf. On this flight researchers collected data on surface elevation, sub-ice bedrock and water depth along paths previously measured by NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite, or ICESat, from 2003 to 2009. This region has been the subject of ground-based studies going back to the 1950s, airborne research by a joint U.S.–Danish project in the 1970s and an effort by Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute in the 1990s.

Previously IceBridge had flown one line in this area in 2012, so this survey expanded the mission’s record of measurements in Antarctica. Thanks to good weather, researchers collected good data for the entire day with the exception of one five minute stretch where low clouds blocked laser and camera instruments. In addition, ice-penetrating radar detected two steep sidewalls in the bedrock in the Hercules Inlet.

The next day, Nov. 16, the IceBridge team took off for a science flight over the Wilkins Ice Shelf and Alexander Island just west of the Antarctic Peninsula. The day’s flight lines were repeat measurements of ice surface elevation there, surveying paths measured during a joint NASA – Chilean project in 2008 and an IceBridge survey in 2011 that followed ICESat tracks. The team also flew a 10 kilometer grid over the Fleming Glacier and Wordie Ice Shelf to study changes to surface elevation there.

In the morning weather briefing, mission planners relied on forecast models and meteorologists at the weather office to decide on the day’s flight. But as sometimes happens the forecasts differed from actual conditions. During the flight, IceBridge researchers had to contend with an unexpected cloud layer that made data collection difficult. But despite these challenges the team surveyed all but a small portion of the day’s planned lines.

On Nov. 21, IceBridge returned to the air to study portions of West Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier. The day’s survey was of new design, combining multiple previously-flown lines into one mission. The mission’s flight lines followed ICESat tracks last measured in 2011 and a line that samples many of the glacier’s tributaries that was last flown in 2009. These lines all collected data on ice surface elevation in one of the fastest changing areas of Antarctica.

Nov. 22 saw the final science flight of IceBridge’s 2014 Antarctic campaign, a survey inland of the Stange and George VI ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula. This mission focused on ice surface elevation on lines parallel to the coast spaced at 20 kilometer intervals. This newly designed survey continued grid lines from surveys of the English Coast and connected the South Peninsula mission flown on Nov. 10.

The Nov. 22 flight brought IceBridge’s total of completed science flights to 22 for the campaign. After a day to pack, IceBridge researchers left Punta Arenas, Chile, on Nov. 24 and after returning the U.S. will begin downloading and processing scientific data that will be available to the public in six months. IceBridge data is housed on a website run by the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.

Back to Bellingshausen and the Peninsula

Forrestal Range in the Pensacola Mountains› View larger
A view of the Forrestal Range in the Pensacola Mountains during IceBridge’s flight on Nov. 14, 2014. Credit: NASA / Michael Studinger

Researchers with NASA’s Operation IceBridge built on their success with more science flights over Antarctica, including two that weather conditions have been preventing since the start of the campaign.

On the morning of Nov. 10 IceBridge mission planners got a break in the weather that has kept the Antarctic Peninsula covered in clouds for the past several weeks. This mission was a repeat of previous flights, focusing on surface elevation changes to four glaciers in the southern part of the peninsula.

In addition to studying the Fleming, Maitland, Lurabee and Clifford glaciers, IceBridge also measured portions of the George VI Ice Shelf. This involved resurveying part of the ice shelf’s grounding line – the area where ice begins to float on the ocean – and measuring an evenly-spaced grid further uphill. With the exception of a few patchy low clouds in the region, the team had the kind of clear weather that allows for good instrument performance and good views of the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Nov. 11 saw the IceBridge team fly a new mission, one of two intended to measure portions of the Getz Ice Shelf in western Antarctica. This flight built on surveys flown in 2010 and 2012, expanding the mission’s reach in the area, and measured two lines over the uppermost portions of the Smith and Kohler glaciers.

The next IceBridge flight, a survey of sea ice in the Bellingshausen Sea, took place on Nov. 13. The mission, one of eight top priority flights, repeated lines flown in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, which is how researchers build a reliable record of change. Clouds have dominated the Bellingshausen Sea region for the entire campaign, so when the forecast showed clear weather the team jumped on the opportunity.

Sea ice missions can be tricky because they require clear weather conditions over large areas. As is often the case, the team encountered fog and low clouds during parts of the flight, but were able to fly under clouds for much of the mission. Fog and low clouds are a common occurrence over sea ice due to increased humidity coming from openings, or leads, in the ice.

On Nov. 14, the IceBridge team flew another new mission, one of five focusing on the Foundation Ice Stream and Support Force Glacier, which both flow into the Ronne Ice Shelf east of the Antarctic Peninsula. This survey focused on the surface of the ice and on bedrock and sub-ice water channels below, measuring a 20 kilometer grid near the grounding lines of both ice streams

The 2014 Antarctic IceBridge campaign comes to an end soon, with the Nov. 14 mission bringing the science flight total to 18. The IceBridge team is scheduled to return from Punta Arenas, Chile, on Nov. 24.

IceBridge Surveys More of West Antarctica

A view of Mount Murphy in Antarctica's Marie Byrd Land seen on the Nov. 7, 2014.› View larger
A view of Mount Murphy in Antarctica's Marie Byrd Land seen on the Nov. 7, 2014, IceBridge survey flight. Credit: NASA / Michael Studinger

IceBridge researchers continued their Antarctic work with a run of four flights in a row that targeted different science sites in western Antarctica.

On Nov. 5, the IceBridge team carried out a survey of the Ferrigno and Alison ice streams and the Abbot Ice Shelf and ice along the Eights Coast. Weather forecasts showed clear conditions in West Antarctica, which typically only last for a few days. Less certain was how cloud cover would look in the Bellingshausen Sea, home of one of the mission’s highest priority flights. That uncertainty is what led mission planners to the decision they made.

The Nov. 5 survey was a new design that incorporated elements of two previously flown missions. The Ferrigno and Alison ice stream portion of the flight followed coast-parallel lines last surveyed in 2012. After completing those back and forth lines, the team headed on to the Abbott Ice Shelf, measuring a region last surveyed during IceBridge’s first campaign in 2009.

The next morning, Nov. 6, mission planners returned to the Punta Arenas weather office to find that things still looked good in the Pine Island Glacier region. With a good forecast in hand, the team took off for a survey to collect data on tributaries feeding into the main trunk of Pine Island Glacier. This repeat of a survey last flown in 2010 was designed to measure changes to the ice surface beyond IceBridge’s other Pine Island Glacier missions.

On Nov. 7, favorable weather conditions were still holding in West Antarctica, so the IceBridge team headed out for a survey of the Thwaites, Smith and Kohler glaciers. This flight repeated parts of a survey flown in 2012 and primarily measured ice elevation in this rapidly-changing part of West Antarctica. In addition, researchers were able to collect high altitude sea ice elevation data with the onboard laser altimeters on the way to and from the survey area.

On Nov. 8, weather conditions cleared over one of IceBridge's other high priority areas, the Slessor Glacier and Bailey Ice Stream. On this mission, researchers measured ice elevation changes and mapped bedrock and subglacial lakes beneath the ice. IceBridge also collected data over an old ice core drill site.

With the Nov. 8 flight, IceBridge has completed 14 science flights over Antarctica and researchers look ahead to carrying out more surveys before the end of the deployment in late November.

Visitors Fly with NASA’s Operation IceBridge

VIP visitors join the pre-flight briefing.› View larger
Prior to getting underway with NASA researches working on Operation IceBridge, NASA Chief Scientist Dr. Ellen Stofan and US Ambassador to Chile Michael Hammer joined the group for a pre-flight briefing in the team’s ready room at Presidente Carlos Ibáñez del Campo airport in Punta Arenas, Chile. Credit: NASA

On Oct. 28, 2014, NASA’s Operation IceBridge hosted two high-profile visitors, U.S. Ambassador to Chile Michael Hammer and NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan.

Hammer and Stofan traveled to Punta Arenas, Chile, to participate in an IceBridge survey flight, meet with local scientists and engage with students and other members of the public.

On this trip, Stofan met with Ambassador Hammer and his staff, spending several days conducting meetings and presentations aimed at promoting the scientific cooperation between the United States and Chile and engaging the public. A large portion of scientific work is global in nature, requiring cooperation, openness and transparency that can translate well to the realm of international relations.

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IceBridge Returns to Thwaites Glacier

Antarctica’s Marie Bird Land› View larger
A view of mountains and glaciers in Antarctica’s Marie Byrd Land seen during the Nov. 2, 2014, IceBridge survey flight. Credit: NASA / Michael Studinger

NASA’s Operation IceBridge recently reached the mid-point of the 2014 Antarctic campaign, flying two more missions in West Antarctica. These flights measured the Land Glacier and nearby coastal areas and the lower portion of Thwaites Glacier, an area of highest priority to the mission.

On Nov. 2, the IceBridge team flew over the Ruppert Coast region of Antarctica near the Getz Ice Shelf. One of the more distant survey areas of the campaign, this flight put the DC-8 within a few hundred miles of a line flown over the Ross Sea during the 2013 Antarctic campaign. This flight was one of a series of five newly designed missions designed to survey ice surface elevation and ice thickness, map sub-glacial bedrock and collect data on water depth beneath floating ice shelves in areas near the Hull and Land glaciers.

After taking off from Punta Arenas, the DC-8 crossed the Bellingshausen Sea, and after collecting high-altitude data on lines previously measured during IceBridge’s 2011 Antarctic campaign, descended to the survey area. Once at 1500 feet above the surface, IceBridge researchers collected data along the Land Glacier and then climbed to return to Punta Arenas, collecting high altitude data on the way back.

On the morning of Nov. 3, IceBridge mission planners visited the airport weather office and came back with good news. Conditions over the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers in West Antarctica are frequently cloudy. So when the forecast showed clear conditions over the lower portion of Thwaites Glacier, IceBridge seized the opportunity to complete one of their highest priority missions.

After a few hours of flight to get to the region from southern Chile, the DC-8 descended to the day’s science target, passing over Pine Island Bay along the way. This flight measured tracks previously flown in 2011 and 2012 and lines from a joint NASA – Chilean survey in 2002.

Repeated measurements of the same areas are crucial for understanding how the ice is changing in the region. In addition, snow depth measurements collected by one of the on-board radar instruments will help researchers better understand snow accumulation rates in a region where it is difficult for researchers to collect surface data.

The team found clear skies overhead, with clouds at the edges of the survey area. As the survey continued, the team encountered some cloudy areas, but was able to keep under the cloud deck to collect surface data. The last lines of the day’s survey took the DC-8 around the dormant volcano Mount Takahe, giving researchers a scenic view just before they made the climb to return to Punta Arenas.

With about half of the campaign done, IceBridge has completed 10 science flights over Antarctica, and the team looks ahead to more successful flights over the next few weeks.

IceBridge Goes Back to Pine Island

Glaciers and mountains in the evening sun seen on the return flight from West Antarctica on Oct. 29, 2014.› View larger
Glaciers and mountains in the evening sun seen on the return flight from West Antarctica on Oct. 29, 2014.
Credit: NASA / Michael Studinger

NASA’s Operation IceBridge has added to its body of work this season with two more science flights over Antarctica, one collecting data on ice streams and subglacial lakes near the Ronne Ice Shelf and one measuring the rapidly-changing Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica.

On Oct. 28, the IceBridge team carried out a survey of the Foundation Ice Stream and Support Force Glacier, measuring surface elevation with laser altimeters and collecting ice-penetrating radar data on a series of subglacial lakes in the region. This flight repeated survey lines flown during the 2012 campaign, which will help researchers understand how ice there is changing over time.

The morning’s weather forecast showed a substantial cloud formation over the Ronne Ice Shelf that would move off shore by the time the DC-8 arrived. The cloud formation didn’t behave quite as projected in the model, but conditions cleared just as the DC-8 crossed from the floating ice shelf onto the ice sheet.

The team was joined on this flight by Ellen Stofan, NASA’s Chief Scientist, and the U.S. Ambassador to Chile, Michael Hammer. In addition to flying with IceBridge, Stofan and Hammer met with local students and teachers, media and government officials while in Punta Arenas. During the flight, IceBridge researchers and flight crew and the mission’s visitors answered questions from three classrooms via text chat over the DC-8’s satellite communication system.

On the morning of Oct. 29, the IceBridge team returned to the Punta Arenas airport to prepare for their next science flight. Since the beginning of the campaign, conditions in coastal portions of West Antarctica have been unsuitable for a mission. The weather situation that morning looked better. Clouds surrounded the area, but the main portion of the glacier was mostly clear. And with forecasts showing the region being covered in thick clouds for the next several days, mission planners decided that the time was right for a survey of Pine Island Glacier.

The Pine Island mission is one of the campaign’s baseline missions, which are flights that focus on the most rapidly changing areas and are thus of highest priority. This flight followed lines previously measured along the glacier’s trunk in 2012 and segments from previous airborne surveys flown from 2002 to 2009 by a collaboration between NASA and the Chilean government.

After transiting from Punta Arenas, the DC-8 descended to the survey area and found good weather conditions, flying under a cloud layer near the glacier’s calving front. This new ice edge where a large portion of ice broke off last year, forming iceberg B31, which has floated a few hundred kilometers away into open ocean. During the Oct. 29 survey, instruments detected a new crack about 65 meters deep near the calving front, which IceBridge project scientist said is a fairly common occurrence.

The Pine Island region is of interest to other researchers as well. On this mission IceBridge flew over future ice core drilling sites that the British Antarctic Survey will begin working on in December.

IceBridge researchers have about three weeks left in this year’s Antarctic campaign and are looking ahead to more flights to collect data crucial to understanding changes to Earth’s polar ice.

For more about iceberg B31, visit:


IceBridge Flies Around the Pole

The mountains of Antarctica's Shackleton Range seen during IceBridge's survey of Recovery Glacier on Oct. 25, 2014.› View larger
The mountains of Antarctica's Shackleton Range seen during IceBridge's survey of Recovery Glacier on Oct. 25, 2014. Credit: NASA / Jim Yungel

Operation IceBridge continued its Antarctic research campaigns with flights designed to study changing glacier ice and set a baseline for future satellite missions.

On the morning of Oct. 23, researchers boarded NASA’s DC-8 for a 12-hour-long research flight that would take them directly over the National Science Foundation’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. After leaving Punta Arenas, Chile, the IceBridge team crossed the Straits of Magellan and flew across Antarctica toward the South Pole. Once at 88 degrees south latitude, the mission called for the DC-8 to follow the latitude line in an eastward semi-circle around the pole.

The main purpose for this mission is to provide points of reference for NASA’s ICESat-2 when in launches in 2017. ICESat-2 and its predecessor, ICESat, travel around the Earth in a north south path that’s slightly off of perpendicular from the equator. This offset, known as orbital inclination, determines highest latitude covered. By flying a circle around 88 degrees south, IceBridge is able to measure one point of every planned ICESat-2 orbit. Knowing elevation figures for every orbit will give researchers a baseline measurement to validate ICESat-2’s measurements.

On Oct. 25, the IceBridge team headed to the airport to prepare for the day while mission planners checked the forecast. The previous day’s conditions were unsuitable in all target areas, but the weather looked good over Recovery Glacier, east of the Weddell Sea.

Recovery Glacier is far from Punta Arenas, making this survey designed to collect data on changing surface elevation there one of the longest missions in the books. After taking off, the DC-8 flew for four hours, crossing the Drake Passage, Antarctic Peninsula and Weddell Sea at high altitude, before descending to the survey area.

This flight followed the same path taken during the Oct. 18, 2012, survey of Recovery Glacier. The team flew back and forth across the ice stream several times and then crossed the glacier’s tributary before flying down the centerline of the glacier and returning to Punta Arenas.

The next morning brought clear conditions in the area near the South Pole, so mission planners seized the opportunity to fly the Oct. 23 mission’s counterpart, circling the west side of the pole at 88 degrees south.

After takeoff, the DC-8 flew a five-hour-long transit to the survey area. Once there, the team followed the 88 degree latitude line for about 90 minutes before climbing and turning back to Punta Arenas, passing high over the National Science Foundation’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

The Oct. 26 flight completed a dataset that researchers should find useful in the future and brought the total of surveys for the campaign so far to six. In the coming days, IceBridge looks ahead to several more high priority surveys, including a return to West Antarctic regions like the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers.

IceBridge Campaign Starts With Sea Ice

NASA’s DC-8 taking off from the Punta Arenas, Chile, airport on Oct. 16.› View larger
NASA’s DC-8 taking off from the Punta Arenas, Chile, airport on Oct. 16, 2014. Credit: NASA / Kyle Krabill

Researchers with NASA’s Operation IceBridge got the mission’s 2014 Antarctic campaign off to a start with two surveys of sea ice and a science flight over the Antarctic Peninsula.

After a long flight from California to southern Chile and preparations on the ground, NASA’s DC-8 research aircraft took off for IceBridge’s first Antarctic survey flight of 2014 on Oct. 16. On the previous morning, none of the mission’s potential science targets had suitable weather, and during the Oct. 16 morning weather briefing, mission planners found clear conditions in the Weddell Sea, site of a high-priority sea ice survey.

This flight plan covered parts of the Weddell Sea previously measured in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Repeating these measurements over several years helps researchers build a more complete record of how ice is changing over the long term. Additionally, IceBridge would fly along a path that the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite had passed over a few hours before.

On Oct. 18 the weather forecast looked promising for a survey over the eastern Antarctic Peninsula. After taking off from Punta Arenas, Chile, the IceBridge team headed off for a newly-designed study of changing ice elevation in and around the Larsen D Ice Shelf. This flight studied areas measured by NASA’s ICEsat satellite in addition to a line along the Antarctic Peninsula. Weather conditions in this area are frequently unfavorable, but IceBridge scientists were treated to a near perfect clear and windless day that meant both good data and scenic views.

The IceBridge team returned to the air on Oct. 20 with another study of sea ice in the Weddell Sea, east of the Antarctic Peninsula. This flight was a repeat of surveys flown in 2009 and 2011 and focused on changes to sea ice freeboard – the amount of ice above the ocean surface – along a line from the Antarctic Peninsula to Cape Norvegia in East Antarctica.

Researchers are looking ahead to more science flights in the coming weeks, with several more high priority surveys of land and sea ice on the agenda.

NASA Begins Sixth Year of Airborne Antarctic Ice Change Study

A view of the Pine Island Glacier ice shelf seen from NASA’s DC-8 during an IceBridge survey flight in 2011.› View larger
A view of the Pine Island Glacier ice shelf seen from NASA’s DC-8 during an IceBridge survey flight in 2011. Credit: NASA / Jefferson Beck

NASA is carrying out its sixth consecutive year of Operation IceBridge research flights over Antarctica to study changes in the continent’s ice sheet, glaciers and sea ice. This year’s airborne campaign, which began its first flight Thursday morning, will revisit a section of the Antarctic ice sheet that recently was found to be in irreversible decline.

For the next several weeks, researchers will fly aboard NASA’s DC-8 research aircraft out of Punta Arenas, Chile. This year also marks the return to western Antarctica following 2013’s campaign based at the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station.

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Preparing For Antarctic Flights in the California Desert

IceBridge carried out a ground-based GPS survey of the El Mirage lake bed in California’s Mojave Desert. › View larger
Credit: NASA / John Sonntag

At first glance a dry lake bed in the southern California desert seems like the last place to prepare to study ice. But on Oct. 2, 2014, NASA’s Operation IceBridge carried out a ground-based GPS survey of the El Mirage lake bed in California’s Mojave Desert. Members of the IceBridge team are currently at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, preparing instruments aboard the DC-8 research aircraft for flights over Antarctica.

Part of this preparation involves test flights over the desert, where researchers verify their instruments are working properly. El Mirage serves as a prime location for testing the mission’s laser altimeter, the Airborne Topographic Mapper, because the lake bed has a flat surface and reflects light similarly to snow and ice.

The photo at right, taken shortly after the survey, shows the GPS-equipped survey vehicle and a stationary GPS station (left of the vehicle) on the lake bed with the constellation Ursa Major in the background. By driving the vehicle in parallel back and forth lines over a predefined area and comparing those GPS elevation readings with measurements from the stationary GPS, researchers are able to build an elevation map that will be used to precisely calibrate the laser altimeter for ice measurements.

Operation IceBridge is scheduled to begin research flights over Antarctica on Oct. 15, 2014. The mission will be based out of Punta Arenas, Chile, until Nov. 23.

For more information about IceBridge, visit:


For blog posts about IceBridge’s previous test flights over the Mojave Desert and GPS ground surveys, visit:


Antarctic 2014 Campaign

Antarctic 2014
Oct. - Nov.

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