From: Michael Studinger, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, co-principal investigator, gravimeter team
PUNTA ARENAS, Chile – After flying for several hours over a windswept Southern Ocean on Tuesday, Oct. 27, the mission director announces that we will be slowly descending towards Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier. Just below are the Hudson Mountains, a small group of extinct volcanoes poking through the ice.
As we approach our survey area, John Sonntag with NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility and I watch the navigation display and admire the pilots’ precision as they steer the giant NASA DC-8 aircraft to the start of our first survey line.
We are here to measure the glacier’s ice surface with lasers, its bottom with radar, and estimate the depth of the water below it with an instrument that measures the gravity pull from above the glacier.
All systems are functioning well and we are excited about the data coming in. The computer screen mounted on the University of Kansas’ radar rack is a popular in-flight gathering spot since it provides a real-time view of the radar data that allows us to “see” the bottom of the glacier while we fly over it.
The structures we see are quite amazing and we toss around ideas about what this tells us about how the glacier is responding to warming temperatures. Science can be so much fun! After criss-crossing Pine Island Glacier several times, it’s time to head home to Punta Arenas.
A heavily crevassed area of Pine Island Glacier. Shows you how very difficult it would be to travel and work on the surface of this glacier. Data are best collected from aircraft flying over the glacier or from space.
The calving front of Pine Island Glacier. This is the end of the glacier where pieces of ice break apart from the floating glacier and become icebergs.
Flying at low elevation over the edge of the floating part of Pine Island Glacier. Winds have blown away the sea ice resulting in an area with open water called a polynya. The goal of this flight is to estimate the thickness of the water layer beneath the floating ice shelf from gravity data.
The Hudson Mountains near the edge of Pine Island Glacier are a small group of extinct volcanoes that poke through the ice and make for spectacular scenery.