IceBridge - Arctic 2013

IceBridge Science

Screen grab of IceBridge Science website showing graphic of P-3B with location of science instrument sensors indicated. Find IceBridge data and publications at our science website

› Visit site

IceBridge Blog

Operation IceBridge Logo Check our blog for the latest from IceBridge researchers
› Visit IceBridge blog

Connect with IceBridge

Loading ...

IceBridge - Arctic 2013

Science Teachers See NASA IceBridge Research

Teachers Mark Buesing and Jette Poulsen aboard the NASA P-3B during an IceBridge survey flight on Apr. 8, 2013. › View larger
Teachers Mark Buesing and Jette Poulsen aboard the NASA P-3B during an IceBridge survey flight on Apr. 8, 2013. Credit: NASA / Christy Hansen

Getting students interested in science means going beyond facts in a textbook. By giving students a look behind the curtain at real scientific research, educators can motivate and inspire them to study and possibly even pursue science-related careers.

NASA's Operation IceBridge gave three teachers—one each from the United States, Greenland and Denmark—an inside view of research by hosting a field research experience during part of the 2013 Arctic campaign. IceBridge achieved this thanks to collaboration with the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen, the education ministries of Greenland and Denmark and a U.S.-based program that pairs teachers and polar science expeditions known as PolarTREC (Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating).

Each year PolarTREC receives hundreds of applications from science teachers who want to bring real-life polar science to their students through field research experiences. After a lengthy selection and interview process, Libertyville, Ill., high school physics teacher Mark Buesing was paired with IceBridge.

Meanwhile, personnel from the Copenhagen embassy worked with the governments of Denmark and Greenland, who selected Jette Rygaard Poulsen, Aalborg, Denmark, a physics and mathematics teacher and science adviser to the Danish Education Ministry, and Mette Noort Hansen, who teaches biology, geography and Arctic technology in Sisimiut, Greenland.

› More....

A Stormy Finish

Wallops flight engineer Brian Yates meets his children after the P-3B returned from completion of IceBridge’s Arctic 2013 campaign. › View larger
NASA Wallops Aircraft Office flight engineer Brian Yates meets his children after the P-3B returned from Operation IceBridge’s Arctic 2013 campaign. Credit: NASA

After several weeks of survey flights the IceBridge team has returned from the Arctic and have started processing collected data and planning for the Antarctic campaign coming up later this year.

IceBridge researchers planned to follow up the Apr. 26 survey of northern Greenland glaciers with a mission to measure sea ice in the Fram Strait. But the final week of the campaign brought a change to what had been almost perfect weather for the past several weeks. IceBridge personnel soon found themselves having to stay inside due to strong storm winds.

Weather conditions in northern Greenland are often harsh and can be hard to predict. Because high winds, limited visibility and cold temperatures can be dangerous Thule Air Base uses a classification system that spells out what personnel are allowed to do. Arctic storms are rated from a Storm Condition Normal through Storm Conditions Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta, with Delta representing the most serious. For about two days Thule experienced high winds, with gusts nearing 100 miles per hour in some areas. The wind and lack of visibility due to blowing snow put Thule Air Base under Storm Condition Charlie, meaning everyone but essential personnel is to stay indoors.

IceBridge planners considered one short science flight before returning, but forecasts were showing another storm on the way. After winds lessened the team was allowed outside and thus began packing the P-3B for its return flight to NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. On the morning of May 2, IceBridge personnel boarded the plane and began the eight hour transit flight back home.

Over the course of the Arctic campaign, IceBridge conducted 26 science flights from bases in Thule and Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and Fairbanks, Alaska. During these flights, IceBridge researchers flew an equivalent distance of more than 2.5 times around the Earth at its equator and collected a vast amount of data on sea ice, ice sheets and glaciers.

Researchers also communicated with classrooms in several U.S. states and Chile using online chats via the plane's satellite communication system. In total, IceBridge communicated with 45 classrooms and more than 500 students, answering questions on topics like Arctic ice, climate and daily life on an IceBridge campaign. IceBridge also hosted three science teachers, who will use their experiences flying with researchers aboard the P-3 to create new activities and lessons to better teach their students.

Since returning to Wallops the IceBridge team has been continuing their work. Researchers and instrument teams began the task of downloading data from the aircraft's instruments and will soon start preparing data to be sent to the National Snow and Ice Data Center where it will be made available to the scientific community, educators and the general public. While this is happening, the IceBridge science team and project science office will continue working on plans for the Antarctic campaign and aircraft technicians will begin routine maintenance and scheduled upgrades of the P-3B.

Expanding IceBridge's Reach

Steensby Glacier flows around a sharp bend in a deep canyon. The glacier is located at 81 degrees north in Nyboe Land and flows into the St. Georges Fjord. › View larger
Steensby Glacier flows around a sharp bend in a deep canyon. The glacier is located at 81 degrees north in Nyboe Land and flows into the St. Georges Fjord. Credit: NASA/ Michael Studinger.

Operation IceBridge completed their 10th high-priority sea ice flight, coordinated with a European Space Agency satellite team, expanded the mission's reach in the Arctic, revisited sites measured in years past and studied a new feature in the ice with a series of flights Apr. 24-26.

On Apr. 24 the NASA P-3B left Thule Air Base and headed north for a survey transecting the geographic North Pole. This mission is a repeat from 2012 and aims at measuring sea ice between Ellesmere Island and the North Pole. A few days prior this flight was briefly considered but not flown because of unfavorable weather in the region and a lack of suitable orbital passes by ESA's CryoSat-2 satellite. One of IceBridge's science requirements is to gather ice data around the same time and place as other missions. Over the past several campaigns NASA and ESA researchers have worked together to coordinate IceBridge flights and CryoSat-2 orbits. With clear weather the team collected a great deal of sea ice data and managed a coordinating pass with CryoSat-2 on an orbit similar to the line flown last year. "We owe a big thank you to the CryoSat-2 team from ESA for excellent coordination," said Michael Studinger, IceBridge's project scientist. "Without their support we would not have been able to do these underflights."

During the Apr. 22 flight over the Canada Basin, IceBridge researchers collected sea ice thickness measurements in an area that has been relatively unsurveyed in the past. On Apr. 25, researchers returned to the Canada Basin to fly a survey line south of the previous flight, improving the geographic coverage of IceBridge's datasets. This mission marked the 25th science flight of the campaign and the 10th and final high-priority sea ice survey in the Arctic for 2013.

The morning of Apr. 26 started with mission planners meeting with meteorologists just like every other day during an IceBridge campaign. The previous days' clear weather started changing with a low pressure system over the Davis Strait between Greenland and Canada. This low brought dense cloud cover to the majority of Greenland, which limited IceBridge's science targets to the northern part of the island. The land ice survey of the Steensby, Ryder, Hagen and other northern Greenland glaciers, revisited lines flown by the Airborne Topographic Mapper team in the past. In addition, the team altered the survey line to gather data on a depression in the Flade Ice Cap that developed over the past several years. The feature, similar to a sinkhole, is almost one hundred meters deep and a few kilometers wide.

On these flights, IceBridge scientists and engineers continued their educational chats with classrooms back home via the P-3B's satellite communication system. During these chat sessions, students asked questions about what is happening to Arctic sea ice, what doing research over the polar regions is like and what they should study to become scientists in the future. During this year's Arctic campaign IceBridge has reached 772 students in 13 states and two schools in Chile.

NASA's IceBridge Finishing Up Successful Arctic Campaign

Saunders Island and Wolstenholme Fjord with Kap Atholl in the background seen during an IceBridge survey flight. › View larger
Saunders Island and Wolstenholme Fjord with Kap Atholl in the background seen during an IceBridge survey flight. Sea ice coverage in the fjord ranges from thicker, white ice seen in the background, to thinner grease ice and leads showing open ocean water in the foreground. Credit: NASA / Michael Studinger

With several weeks of science flights in the books, researchers with NASA's Operation IceBridge are on the way to completing another successful campaign to maintain and expand a dataset that started with NASA's ICESat in 2003, and gather additional Arctic ice measurements that can improve computer models of sea and land ice. Since the start of the campaign in mid-March, the IceBridge team has measured sea ice, mapped sub-ice bedrock and gathered data on Greenland's glaciers by flying science missions out of Thule Air Base and Kangerlussuaq in Greenland, with a short deployment in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Operating out of these different locations allows IceBridge to gather data in a variety of areas throughout the Arctic. From Thule Air Base, researchers aboard NASA's P-3B airborne laboratory can measure land and sea ice in and around northern Greenland. More southerly areas, such as glaciers on Greenland's southeast coast, the scenic Geikie Peninsula and the Jakobshavn basin on Greenland's west coast are reachable from Kangerlussuaq, a small town and transportation hub in western Greenland. In addition, for a few days early in the campaign, researchers relocated to Fairbanks, affording views of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas north of Alaska and across the entire Arctic Ocean.

› More...

Filling in Gaps

Terminus of Wordie Glacier in northeast Greenland with small terminal moraine. › View larger
Terminus of Wordie Glacier in northeast Greenland with small terminal moraine. Wordie Glacier is a land-terminating glacier that is not in contact with water in the fjord. Credit: NASA / Michael Studinger

Scientists and engineers with NASA's Operation IceBridge continued their work to gather vital information on Arctic ice with flights into areas not extensively covered in previous campaigns. With one sea ice flight and one ice sheet survey in the books, researchers are heading toward the end of the campaign and the last of the mission's high priority flights.

Greenland's Thule Air Base puts the NASA P-3B in range of large portions of Arctic sea ice, some of which IceBridge flew over on Apr. 22. This mission was a repeat of one from 2012 and aimed at sampling a large region of the Canada Basin between IceBridge survey lines flown out of and on the way back from Fairbanks, Alaska.

This mission also involved coordinating with a satellite that provides data for the Global Fiducials Library (GFL) at the U.S. Geological Survey. GFL is a collaborative effort between various academic institutions and U.S. government agencies that maintains a long-term record of high-resolution imagery of Arctic sea ice. On Apr. 22 and 23 a satellite was to capture images at 10 locations multiple times per day in the area of IceBridge's flight line, and IceBridge's goal was to survey that region on one of those two days. The objective of this collaboration was to see how feasible coordinating observations from multiple sources is and to find out what benefits there are in combining such measurements of Arctic sea ice cover.

Completing the Apr. 22 survey meant that IceBridge planners had two high-priority sea ice mission plans left, a survey farther south in the Canada Basin and a flight over the North Pole, which had been attempted and canceled earlier in the campaign. As is sometimes the case, weather had other plans. Unfavorable weather over the Canada Basin and a lack of suitable CryoSat-2 overpasses in the Arctic Ocean led mission planners to pass on the two sea ice flights and instead choose a flight over the north-central part of the ice sheet on Apr. 23.

The Apr. 23 flight was a new mission designed to fill in a gap in surface elevation and ice thickness coverage in north Greenland. On this survey, the P-3B flew two lines across the Greenland ice sheet, gathering data along the way. Once at the east coast researchers surveyed the centerlines of the Qeqertarsuap, Drachmann and Wordie glaciers. After returning to the west side of Greenland, the P-3B repeated parts of a coast-parallel survey line flown from 2010 to 2012 before returning to Thule Air Base.

For more information about GFL and samples of the images it contains, visit the GFL website.

Back to Thule

The calving front of Petermann Glacier in northern Greenland as seen from the NASA P-3B. › View larger
The calving front of Petermann Glacier in northern Greenland as seen from the NASA P-3B. In July 2012 an iceberg twice the size of Manhattan broke off of Petermann Glacier and began to float away in the ocean. After this calving event the line where the iceberg broke away became the glacier's new front edge, or calving front, effectively moving it several kilometers upstream. Several valley glaciers are now flowing into the fjord, covered by sea ice. Credit: NASA / Michael Studinger

After completing a streak of successful science flights, IceBridge researchers closed out the Kangerlussuaq portion of the campaign and returned to Thule Air Base to finish this year's remaining Arctic science flights.

The IceBridge P-3B took off on the morning of Apr. 15 to begin the sole remaining high-priority flight out of Kangerlussuaq for the campaign, a survey of land ice near Greenland's east coast. Perfect weather gave the team on board a clear view as they flew over the Greenland ice sheet on the way to a coast-parallel grid starting near the scenic Geikie Plateau. This new mission is one of three missions, the first two flown in 2012, designed to expand coverage in the area and build on existing ICESat ground tracks.

Mission flight lines are categorized by the IceBridge science team prior to each campaign based on the amount of existing data in that region, what level of change the area is experiencing and, most importantly, meeting the mission's science requirements. A rapidly changing area that many scientists are interested in, such as the Jakobshavn Glacier, would rate high, while more stable areas or those where there is less demand for data might be classified as medium or low priority.

The morning of Apr. 18 researchers boarded the P-3B for the transit flight to Thule Air Base. Following a route along Greenland's west coast, the team re-surveyed the main flow lines of the Tracy and Heilprin glaciers and measured all five branches of the Upernavik Ice Stream. Although they are both flowing ice, glaciers move through valleys with rock walls on both sides and ice streams are parts of the ice sheet that flow faster than the ice around it. "An ice stream is a river of ice within ice," said Michael Studinger, IceBridge's project scientist.

After arriving in Thule, the team unpacked and set up ground instruments. On the following day, Apr. 19, the team took off for a grid survey of northeast Greenland. This newly-designed mission is one of six flights aimed at measuring bedrock beneath the ice using the Multichannel Coherent Radar Depth Sounder operated by the Center for the Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets at the University of Kansas. In addition to data from this ice-penetrating radar, instruments aboard the P-3B also gathered ice elevation measurements along ICESat ground tracks.

On Apr. 20, the NASA P-3B flew a mission over the Humboldt and Petermann glaciers in northern Greenland. Petermann Glacier is the site of a large calving event last summer, where a 46-square-mile (120-square-kilometer) iceberg broke off into the Arctic Ocean. This mission, also new for this campaign, included a grid for radar sampling of sub-ice bedrock and surface elevation measurements along historic ICESat lines.

From Thule the IceBridge team will continue flying surveys of sea ice and northern Greenland glaciers before concluding the campaign on May 3.

Surveying the Geikie Peninsula and a Canadian Ice Cap

Ice covered fjord on Baffin Island with Davis Strait in the background. › View larger
Ice covered fjord on Baffin Island with Davis Strait in the background. Baffin Island is the largest island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and fifth largest island in the world. Credit: NASA / Michael Studinger

IceBridge closed out the fourth week of its Arctic campaign with a flight over the striking landscape of eastern Greenland's Geikie Peninsula and a survey of a Canadian ice cap before taking two days off over the weekend. Soon the mission will return to Thule to finish up Arctic flights for 2013.

On Apr. 11, IceBridge researchers flew across the Greenland ice sheet from Kangerlussuaq to the Geikie Peninsula, an area known for its distinctive terrain. Flying an east to west grid pattern, researchers aboard the NASA P-3B measured changes in the region's ice. This mission's flight lines were spaced 25 miles (40 km) apart and offset from a 2012 survey of the region, yielding denser coverage.

The Geikie Peninsula is largely made up of rock formed by repeated flows of lava millions of years ago. This gives the region's rugged mountain peaks their layer cake appearance. While striking in appearance, the varying terrain in the Geikie region posed a challenge for the Airborne Topographic Mapper (ATM) and radar instrument teams, who gathered nearly seven hours of data.

The morning of Apr. 12 saw the P-3B take off for a flight to the west, across the Davis Strait to Canada's Baffin Island. This island, the largest one in Canada, is home to an ice formation known as the Penny Ice Cap. This mission was a repeat of airborne surveys by the ATM and radar teams flown in 1995, 2000 and 2005, and added new survey lines along ICESat ground tracks. Previous airborne surveys showed the ice cap thinning and glaciers retreating in the area and the Apr. 12 mission aimed at measuring several glaciers in the area to see how much the Penny Ice Cap has melted in recent years.

Thanks to clear weather on Baffin Island and over the Davis Strait, IceBridge researchers were also able to gather high-altitude data over sea ice between Canada and Greenland.

Like last year, continued successful flights caused the team to hit the maximum number of flight hours allowed in a 30 day window, so the team spent both Saturday and Sunday on the ground. "It takes several hours before the flight and after the flight to prepare the aircraft for an 8 hour science mission, warm up the instruments and process the data," said Michael Studinger, IceBridge's project scientist. "We have teams that work very hard."

Photo comparison of Canada's Penny Ice Cap in 1979 and 2000;


IceBridge blog post on Greenland's past volcanic activity;


Best Conditions in the Area

Plot of preliminary Airborne Topographic Mapper T4 wide scan data of Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier on Apr. 4 and Apr. 10, 2013. › View larger
Plot of preliminary Airborne Topographic Mapper T4 wide scan data of Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier. Warmer colors indicate higher ice elevation and the transition from warm to cool colors shows the glaciers calving front, where ice breaks off of the glacier. The southernmost swath shows data from the Apr. 4 IceBridge flight and the two northernmost swaths show the Jakobshavn calving front six days later on Apr. 10. The difference between the two days shows a loss of about 200 meters of ice. Credit: NASA / ATM team

Scientists and engineers with Operation IceBridge continued their work on the 2013 Arctic campaign with a flight over glaciers in southeast Greenland and a return to the Jakobshavn glacier.

On the morning of Apr. 9 the weather report showed a rare combination of clear skies and low winds in southeast Greenland. A semi-permanent low pressure center between Greenland and Iceland, known as the Icelandic Low, often brings cloud cover into southeast Greenland that would interfere with IceBridge's laser altimeter and camera instruments. Clear days in the region are usually due to high winds pushing clouds away, causing severe turbulence that makes for rough survey flights.

After a transit flight across the ice sheet, researchers aboard the P-3B began surveys of the centerlines of glaciers not measured during previous IceBridge campaigns. Centerline surveys involve flying precise paths up and down glacier valleys while the aircraft's onboard instruments gather data on ice elevation and thickness and bedrock topography. Glacier runs usually mean a bumpy ride, but lower wind speeds caused only moderate turbulence. "Today we experienced the best conditions in the area in terms of turbulence," said Michael Studinger, IceBridge's project scientist.

The next day, Apr. 10, researchers took off for a return to the Jakobshavn, Rink and Kangerdlugssup glaciers. This mission, a repeat of similar flights from every previous IceBridge Arctic campaign aimed at completing a survey grid of the Jakobshavn basin with east-west lines, repeat surveys of other glaciers in the region and fly over an ICESat ground track.

With near perfect weather in the region, researchers had a clear view and smooth ride for collecting data. Returning to the Jakobshavn Glacier's calving front—the part of the glacier where ice breaks off into the fjord— meant that the Airborne Topographic Mapper team could compare their measurements with data from six days before. During the flight, the ATM team processed data that showed about 200 meters of ice had broken off of Jakobshavn Glacier between Apr. 4 and Apr. 10.

Favorable weather on both days meant that IceBridge collected a vast sum of data, and that researchers and visiting teachers had plenty of chances to learn from each other and take photos of scenery outside of the plane. During the flights, the team also communicated with elementary and middle school classrooms in Illinois, New Hampshire and California through Internet-based text chats, reaching 156 students and six teachers.

East and West Coast Glaciers

Helheim Fjord in eastern Greenland seen from the NASA P-3B on the Apr. 5, 2013 IceBridge survey flight. › View larger
Helheim Fjord in eastern Greenland seen from the NASA P-3B on the Apr. 5, 2013 IceBridge survey flight. Helheim Glacier, one of the largest in Greenland, drains into the ocean through this fjord. Credit: NASA / Jim Yungel

The second stage of IceBridge's Arctic deployment is now in full swing, with surveys of glaciers on both the east and west coasts of Greenland. Surveys of these glaciers added another year of data to the growing continuous record of change in Greenland and afforded IceBridge team members and visitors with picturesque views of the Arctic landscape.

NASA's P-3B flew over the Greenland ice sheet on the morning of Apr. 5 to reach survey sites between the Helheim and Kangerdlugssuaq glaciers on the east coast. As with most rapidly changing areas in Greenland, these science targets were the subject of repeated missions, similar to surveys flown in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Instead of flying a back and forth grid pattern like some previous flights, researchers on the P-3B surveyed the centerlines of branches of the Helheim, Kangerdlugssuaq, Fenris, Midgard and Hutchinson glaciers on Greenland's east coast. Surveying the centerline of a glacier gives researchers valuable data on changes in ice elevation and the shape of bedrock beneath the ice.

In addition to collecting this vital data, flying at low altitude over glacier centerlines gives everyone aboard NASA's airborne laboratory a great view of mountains, ocean and ice. "The spectacular scenery in the area never gets boring," said Michael Studinger, IceBridge's project scientist.

The following day, Apr. 6, the IceBridge team returned to the Jakobshavn Glacier region on Greenland's west coast to extend and improve a measurement grid started by NASA's ICESat and fly centerlines of the Eqip Sermia, Kangilerngata Sermia, Sermeq Kajalleq and Store glaciers.

During both flights the IceBridge team was joined by guest science teachers. Three teachers, one each from the United States, Greenland and Denmark, are flying along on IceBridge surveys to get a close-up look at polar science field work. In addition, IceBridge researchers answered the questions of two teachers and nearly 40 students in California and New Hampshire during an online chat via the P-3B's satellite communications link.

Filling a Gap and Repeating Measurements

A view of Jakobshavn fjord from NASA’s P-3B aircraft during the Apr. 4, 2013 IceBridge survey of the Jakobshavn Glacier basin. › View larger
A view of Jakobshavn fjord from NASA’s P-3B aircraft during the Apr. 4, 2013 IceBridge survey of the Jakobshavn Glacier basin. Icebergs, seen here locked in place by sea ice, routinely break off the glacier, which produces around 10 percent of all Greenland icebergs and drains 6.5 percent of the Greenland ice sheet. Jakobshavn Glacier is one of the fastest moving ice streams in the world. Credit: NASA / Jim Yungel

After completing several successful missions out of Thule and Fairbanks the IceBridge team loaded up the P-3B and flew off to their new base of operations in Kangerlussuaq. Soon after arriving and settling in, the team conducted a survey of the Jakobshavn Glacier in western Greenland, an area showing dramatic thinning over the past two decades.

On Apr. 1, IceBridge researchers, instrument operators and flight crew loaded equipment, cargo and ground instruments onto the P-3B for the flight to Kangerlussuaq the following day. In the planning stages before the campaign the team devised several surveys that could be used as transit flights, allowing researchers to gather a full day's worth of ice data while moving from one base to the other.

On the morning of Apr. 2, mission planners visited the weather office and after looking at weather conditions along several possible flight plans decided on a survey known as North Central Gap 02. This newly designed survey aimed at filling in a gap in measurements in the north-central part of the Greenland ice sheet and netted several hours of data collection for the team.

The forecast on the morning of Apr. 4 showed clear—if windy— weather on the west coast of Greenland, leading the decision to survey the rapidly changing Jakobshavn Glacier. This large ice stream near the town of Ilulissat on Greenland's west coast has retreated significantly in the past several decades and has a major effect on the overall mass balance of the Greenland ice sheet.

› Download high resolution video
Jakobshavn Glacier, one of the fastest moving glaciers in Greenland, has been the focus of Operation IceBridge survey flights for five consecutive years. Images from an IceBridge mission on Apr. 4, 2013 and video footage from the 2012 Arctic campaign show this rapidly changing ice stream and how IceBridge is using its suite of airborne instruments to collect crucial data on ice movement that will shed light on how glaciers like Jakobshavn might contribute to future sea level rise. Credit: NASA/Goddard

This flight was a repeat of missions flown in each IceBridge campaign and repeats a grid flown by the Airborne Topographic Mapper team in the years prior to IceBridge and a survey of the ice stream's main flow line. Researchers also expanded the historic ATM grid by following ICESat ground tracks in the area. Such repeated year after year measurements, especially in fast-moving areas like the Jakobshavn basin, are crucial for building an accurate and reliable picture of the polar regions.

In addition to gathering nearly eight hours of science data, the IceBridge team had the opportunity to text chat with a teacher in New Hampshire and elementary school students in California and Punta Arenas, Chile. IceBridge will continue land ice flights out of Kangerlussuaq for about the next two weeks before returning to Thule to finish out the campaign.

Sampling the Strait

Sea ice in the Nares Strait—a body of water between Canada’s Ellesmere Island and Greenland—seen from the NASA P-3B on an IceBridge survey flight on Mar. 27, 2013. › View larger
Sea ice in the Nares Strait—a body of water between Canada’s Ellesmere Island and Greenland—seen from the NASA P-3B on an IceBridge survey flight on Mar. 27, 2013. Credit: NASA / Christy Hansen

NASA researchers completed another survey of sea ice with a flight over part of the Arctic Ocean north of Greenland and in the Nares Strait, a body of water between Greenland and Canada's Ellesmere Island. This marks the last completed science flight before IceBridge transfers its base of operations from Thule to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.

On the morning of Mar. 27—the day after the P-3B returned from Fairbanks—IceBridge mission planners reviewed the remaining high-priority sea ice flight plans and the weather conditions to decide which survey to fly. All four missions had weather issues to some degree, though this flight seemed to have the best forecast. Updated satellite images received shortly after takeoff showed good conditions on the survey path. With favorable weather IceBridge collected several hours of science data with only a small portion of the southern part of the Nares Strait obscured by low clouds.

During this survey IceBridge researchers flew in a zigzag pattern to gather data on thick multi-year ice just off the coast of Greenland and how ice becomes thinner farther north. Sea ice is thicker near the coast because wind drives sea ice cover and as the ice drifts it collects against the shore.

Researchers also sampled ice in the Nares Strait, an area of interest to researchers with the Canadian Space Agency. CSA researchers are looking for improved data on Nares Strait sea ice thickness for modeling purposes and to help plan future shipping routes.

Panorama: Sled dogs on sea ice in North Star Bay near Thule Air Base, Greenland, with 700-foot-high Mount Dundas in the background. › View larger
Sled dogs on sea ice in North Star Bay near Thule Air Base, Greenland, with 700-foot-high Mount Dundas in the background. With no road or rail network between them, cities in Greenland are primarily connected by ship and aircraft. For shorter distances, people often use snowmobiles or dogsleds as a way to travel and transport goods. Dogsled races on North Star Bay were a highlight of Armed Forces day activities at Thule on Mar. 30, 2013. Credit: NASA / Christy Hansen

A canceled flight on Mar. 28, combined with downtime for minor aircraft maintenance and a weekend closure of the airfield at Thule for Easter and Armed Forces Day, gave IceBridge researchers a chance to catch up on tasks like processing the terabytes of data the P-3B's suite of instruments collected over several surveys. Next, the team will pack up cargo and ground instruments in preparation for the move from Thule to Kangerlussuaq for the next part of the Arctic campaign.

New Collaborations and a Return to Thule

The moon over the NASA P-3B prior to the IceBridge team’s 1 a.m. departure from Fairbanks, Alaska, on Mar. 26, 2013. › View larger
The moon over the NASA P-3B prior to the IceBridge team’s 1 a.m. departure from Fairbanks, Alaska, on Mar. 26, 2013. The team left Fairbanks early to ensure they could return to Thule—five time zones away—before the airfield closed in the afternoon. Credit: Mark Buesing

NASA's Operation IceBridge closed out the Fairbanks portion of its 2013 Arctic campaign with a survey of the southern Beaufort Sea and a pre-dawn flight back to Greenland. With these two flights, IceBridge expanded its record of measurements into new areas, continued building a series of data going back several years and furthered its collaborations with other research groups. In addition, the return trip to Thule marked a milestone for the Airborne Topographic Mapper team.

Scientists, instrument operators and flight crew boarded the P-3B the morning of Mar. 24 to survey sea ice just north of Alaska. On this mission the IceBridge team flew a zigzag pattern over sea ice north of Alaska, gathering crucial elevation data and expanding the mission's coverage area further into the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

The flight also provided a new collaboration opportunity with the Seasonal Ice Zone Reconnaissance (SIZRS) program. SIZRS is a project aimed at monitoring sea ice between the annual minimum and maximum that uses repeated ocean, ice and atmospheric measurements across the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. Flying this leg improved the SIZRS dataset by adding early spring measurements. In addition, IceBridge coordinated with a surface-based research site near Barrow, Alaska, and flew along a CryoSat-2 ground track.

After a no-fly day for flight crew rest, IceBridge returned to action on Mar. 26, taking off for the return flight to Thule at 1 a.m. Alaska time. The exceptionally early start of this flight was due to the need to get back to Thule before the airfield closed at 4 p.m. combined with the five hour time difference between Alaska and Greenland. Leaving at 1 a.m. meant that a third of the mission was flown in the dark, giving everyone on the P-3B a view of the Arctic not normally seen. "It is fascinating to see the reflections of the two green ATM lasers on the sea ice below the aircraft," said Michael Studinger, IceBridge's project scientist.

Like the transit flight to Fairbanks on Mar. 21, this flight is a repeat from every year since IceBridge started. Flying across the entire Arctic Basin each year allows the team to get a picture of how ice elevation varies over a large area and over several years. The flight was also the 360th science flight for the ATM team since 1993. Of those 360 flights, 179 have been with IceBridge since 2009. "This puts four years of IceBridge data collection into perspective," said Studinger.

Off to a Productive Start

The P-3 is waiting outside the hangar at Thule Air Base with the Greenland Ice sheet in the background. › View larger
The P-3B is waits outside the hangar at Thule Air Base with the Greenland Ice sheet in the background. Credit: NASA/M. Studinger

The IceBridge 2013 Arctic campaign launched on Mar. 20 with a series of successful science flights north of Greenland, across the Arctic Basin and in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas north of Alaska. These first few flights built on existing datasets going back to the start of IceBridge, expanded knowledge with newly designed surveys and continued IceBridge's work in gathering ice measurements alongside partners from the European Space Agency.

On Mar. 18, NASA's P-3B airborne laboratory carried the IceBridge team and their gear from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia to Thule Air Base in northern Greenland, where it was an unusually warm 40 degrees Fahrenheit. In mid-March, temperatures in Thule usually average between -5 and -15 Fahrenheit. The warmer temperatures caused foggy conditions that led to a delayed takeoff for IceBridge's first science flight on Mar. 20. "Fog is typical later in the deployment and during the summer," said Michael Studinger, IceBridge's project scientist. "We have not experienced fog in March during any of the deployments so far."

After a short wait to let the fog clear, the team took off and flew north to measure sea ice in the Arctic Ocean in concert with an overhead pass by ESA's ice-monitoring satellite, CryoSat-2. The P-3B flew a grid centered on CryoSat-2's ground track, flying 10 back and forth lines spaced about a third of a mile apart, yielding a swath of detailed sea ice data more than three miles wide. On this flight, IceBridge addressed several of the mission's science requirements, gathering data on sea ice height and snow depth and sampling satellite ground tracks.

The next day, Mar. 21, the IceBridge team flew to Fairbanks, Alaska, to spend the next few days surveying ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. In the past few years, IceBridge has increased its coverage of regions off the coast of Alaska in response to demand for more data from the science community. The transit from Thule to Fairbanks also allowed IceBridge to collect data on changing sea ice across the entire Arctic basin. The Mar. 21 flight marked the fifth year in a row that IceBridge has flown this transit, recently renamed the Laxon Line in honor of sea ice scientist Seymour Laxon.

Mar. 22 marked the first of a series of IceBridge flights out of Fairbanks with a mission designed to sample ice in the western Arctic Basin. This flight was a repeat of a 2012 mission, giving researchers data to measure changes to ice cover. Better than expected weather in the region allowed the instrument teams to collect measurements over a large area with only a minimal loss of data due to scattered clouds.

Flights continued on Mar. 23, with a newly designed mission to measure sea ice in the eastern Beaufort Sea, expanding IceBridge's coverage area and gathering data of interest to the Canadian Space Agency. Perfect weather during the mission meant instruments aboard the P-3B collected data with no losses.

NASA Begins New Season of Arctic Ice Science Flights

The NASA P-3B sits in the hangar at Thule Air Base while the IceBridge team waits for fog to clear on the morning of Mar. 20, 2013. › View larger
The NASA P-3B sits in the hangar at Thule Air Base while the IceBridge team waits for fog to clear on the morning of Mar. 20, 2013. Credit: NASA / Michael Studinger

NASA's Operation IceBridge scientists have begun another season of research activity over Arctic ice sheets and sea ice with the first of a series of science flights from Greenland completed on Wednesday.

A specially equipped P-3B research aircraft from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va., is operating out of airfields in Thule and Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and Fairbanks, Alaska. The flights will carry out survey flights over land and sea ice in and around Greenland and the Arctic Ocean through early May.

NASA began the Operation IceBridge airborne campaign in 2009 as a way to continue the record of polar ice measurements made by NASA's Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite's (ICESat) after the satellite stopped gathering data. By flying campaigns in the Arctic and Antarctic each year, IceBridge is maintaining a continuous record of change until the launch of ICESat-2 in 2016.

› More

NASA Scientists Part of Arctic Sea Ice Study

The Polar-5 aircraft, carrying the EM instrument that was used to validate Cryosat-2 sea ice thickness measurements, flying over the validation site. › View larger
The Polar-5 aircraft, carrying the EM instrument that was used to validate Cryosat-2 sea ice thickness measurements, flying over the validation site. Credit: NERC/UCL/Rosemary Willatt

New research using combined records of ice measurements from NASA's Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), the European Space Agency's CryoSat-2 satellite, airborne surveys and ocean-based sensors shows Arctic sea ice volume declined 36 percent in the autumn and 9 percent in the winter over the last decade. The work builds on previous studies using submarine and NASA satellite data and confirms computer model estimates that showed ice volume decreases over the last decade, and builds a foundation for a multi-decadal record of sea ice volume changes.

In a report published online recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, a large international collaboration of scientists outlined their work to calculate Arctic sea ice volume. The satellite measurements were verified using data from NASA's Operation IceBridge, ocean-based sensors and a European airborne science expedition. This was compared with the earlier sea ice volume record from NASA's ICESat, which reached the end of its lifespan in 2009.

The researchers found that from 2003 to 2008, autumn volumes of ice averaged 11,900 cubic kilometers. But from 2010 to 2012, the average volume had dropped to 7,600 cubic kilometers – a decline of 4,300 cubic kilometers. The average ice volume in the winter from 2003 to 2008 was 16,300 cubic kilometers, dropping to 14,800 cubic kilometers between 2010 and 2012 – a difference of 1,500 cubic kilometers.

› More


Arctic 2013 Campaign

Greenland/Alaska/Canada 2013
March - May

Operation IceBridge Logo

Image Gallery

Loading ...

Latest Videos

Loading ...

More IceBridge Multimedia

SVS letters superimposed on an ice field image
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.

Page Last Updated: August 14th, 2014
Page Editor: Holly Zell