How It Works

NASA completes flights to survey Arctic ice

Operation IceBridge is NASA’s biggest mission has been monitoring changes in polar ice across the western basin of the Arctic Ocean and Greenlands fastest-melting glaciers. The spring mapping survey started on March 22 and has just ended on May 2.

The first weeks of the study, IceBridge was based at Thule Air Base in northwest Greenland and Fairbanks in Alaska. From here the campaign mapped the sea ice floating in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, as well as the central Arctic Ocean. They also monitored the ever-evolving Petermann Glacier in northeast Greenland. The team moved to Kangerlussuaq on April 20th to monitor different areas. From their new position just north of the Arctic Circle in central west Greenland they launched surveying flights to map the land ice in the country.

In a press release, IceBridge’s acting project scientist Joe MacGregor commented; “This campaign achieved most of our primary objectives in surveying the state of Arctic ice. We’ve now flown many of these missions ten years in a row, a period that has included continued rapid change in both Arctic glaciers and sea ice.”

The image above was taken during a research flight carried on April 21 near Vestfjord Glacier in Scoresby Sund, along the eastern coast of Greenland. The photo shows a large iceberg that has broken the surrounding layer of consolidated sea ice. Flat floes of sea ice with fresh snow on top, areas of open water that are beginning to refreeze and neighbouring smaller icebergs are visible.

IceBridge is responsible for surveying sea and land flights every year to monitor areas of ice that are known to be changing rapidly over the last few decades. This springs field campaign used a plane with a dual-colour laser altimeter to measure surface elevation by transmitting infrared and green laser pulses, three types of radar to map ice layers and the bedrock underneath, a high-resolution camera to make colour maps of the sea ice, and infrared cameras to measure surface temperatures.

The large-scale airborne monitoring involves huge international collaboration with collaborations including the ESA’s (European Space Agency) Sentinel-3A and CryoSat-2 satellites,  U.S. Navy’s 2018 ICEX and Danish PROMICE meteorological stations in Greenland, and radar systems with Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute.

Nathan Kurtz, IceBridge’s project scientist, commented in a press release: “We achieved good coverage of the Arctic sea ice pack, fast changing glacier areas and overflights of 4,550 miles of future ICESat-2 tracks to ensure continuity between multiple altimetry missions over a long time period.”

Image: A large iceberg floating among sea ice floes, as seen during an operation IceBridge survey flight on Apr. 21, 2018. Credits: NASA/Linette Boisvert


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