NASA Flies to Antarctica for Largest Airborne Polar Ice Survey

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WASHINGTON -- NASA begins a series of flights Oct. 15 to study changes
to Antarctica's sea ice, glaciers and ice sheets. The flights are
part of Operation Ice Bridge, a six-year campaign that is the largest
airborne survey ever made of ice at Earth's polar regions.

Researchers will work from NASA's DC-8, an airborne laboratory
equipped with laser mapping instruments, ice-penetrating radar and
gravity instruments. Data collected from the mission will help
scientists better predict how changes to the massive Antarctic ice
sheet will contribute to future sea level rise around the world.

The plane, crew and scientists depart Oct. 12 from NASA's Dryden
Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., and fly to Punta
Arenas, Chile, where they will be based through mid-November. Seelye
Martin of the University of Washington in Seattle leads the mission,
with nearly 50 scientists and support personnel involved. The team is
planning 17 flights over some of the fastest-changing areas in
western Antarctica and its ice-covered coastal waters.

Data collected during the campaign also will help bridge the data gap
between NASA's Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite, known as
ICESat, which has been in orbit since 2003, and NASA's ICESat-II,
scheduled to launch no earlier than 2014. ICESat is nearing the end
of its operational lifetime, making the Ice Bridge flights critical
for ensuring a continuous record of observations.

"A remarkable change is happening on Earth, truly one of the biggest
changes in environmental conditions since the end of the ice age,"
said Tom Wagner, cryosphere program manager at NASA Headquarters in
Washington. "It's not an easy thing to observe, let alone predict
what might happen next. Studies like Ice Bridge are key."

Because airborne observations lack the continent-wide coverage a
satellite provides, mission planners have selected key targets to
study that are most prone to change. Sea ice measurements will be
collected from the Amundsen Sea, where local warming suggests the ice
may be thinning. Ice sheet and glacier studies will be flown over the
Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctica, including Pine Island
Glacier, an area scientists believe could undergo rapid changes.

The payload on the DC-8 includes the Airborne Topographic Mapper, a
laser altimeter developed at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in
Virginia. It produces elevation maps of the ice surface and
previously was flown over the Antarctic in 2002, 2004, and 2008
aboard a Chilean Navy P3 aircraft. By retracing some of those
flights, as well as the tracks covered by ICESat, researchers can
compare the data sets and determine changes in ice elevation.

Other instruments flying include the Multichannel Coherent Radar Depth
Sounder from the University of Kansas, which measures ice sheet
thickness and the varied terrain below the ice. The Laser Vegetation
Imaging Sensor, developed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in
Greenbelt, Md., maps large areas of sea ice and glacier zones. A
gravimeter from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth
Observatory in Palisades, N.Y., will give scientists their first
opportunity to measure the shape of the ocean cavity beneath floating
ice shelves in critical spots of Antarctica. A University of Kansas
snow radar will measure the thickness of snow on top of sea ice and

NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.; NASA's Ames Research
Center in Moffett Field, Calif.; and the University of North Dakota
in Grand Forks also are providing support for the campaign.

NASA also is funding complementary airborne surveys as part of
Operation Ice Bridge, including surveys of Alaskan glaciers by
scientists from the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and an
extensive survey of remote regions of East Antarctica by scientists
from the University of Texas in Austin, the University of Edinburgh
and the Australian Antarctic Division.

The Antarctic flights follow the first Operation Ice Bridge airborne
campaign earlier this year over Greenland and the Arctic Ocean. The
mission will map key areas in each polar region once a year. Arctic
flights resume in spring 2010.

For more information about Operation Ice Bridge, visit:


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