Glaciers by Sight, Glaciers by Radar

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Views from NASA’s G-III aircraft as it flew over the eastern coast of Greenland at about 40,000 feet on March 26 with the GLISTIN-A instrument aboard.

by Patrick Lynch / KEFLAVIK, ICELAND /

The Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) team is flying NASA’s G-III at about 40,000 feet. On a clear day, this altitude also provides a stunning perspective of one of the world’s two great ice sheets (the other is Antarctica). The flight Saturday, March 26, over the northeast coastline was one of those clear days.

“Today was spectacular – we had really good visibility,” said Josh Willis, OMG’s principal investigator. “It was a really dramatic landscape. Really beautiful and amazing to watch.”

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But the altitude wasn’t chosen for the 40,000-foot view. It was selected out of necessity to provide the exact position needed to map the height of glacier edges where they meet the ocean.

The OMG team is now just a few flights away from mapping glacier heights around the entire coast of Greenland. These measurements will form the baseline of this first-of-its-kind experiment, clarifying the picture of how Greenland’s glaciers are responding at a time when many signs point to accelerating change.

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“Four more flights and we will have mapped the coastline all the way around Greenland and captured almost every marine-terminating glacier here,” Willis said. “That’s the goal of OMG: to get the big picture of how the ice is disappearing, where it’s happening and why.”

OMG will pave the way for improved estimates of sea level rise by investigating the extent to which the oceans are melting Greenland’s ice. OMG will observe changing water temperatures and glaciers that reach the ocean around all of Greenland from 2015 to 2020.