Monthly Archives: October 2012

A Diplomatic Visit for IceBridge

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By George Hale, IceBridge Science Outreach Coordinator, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

On Oct. 25, IceBridge was joined by U.S. Ambassador to Chile Alejandro Wolff and his Secretary for Economic Affairs Josanda Jinnette. Ambassador Wolff and Ms. Jinnette traveled from Santiago on Oct. 24 and attended IceBridge’s evening science meeting that day. The following morning, they sat in on the morning pre-flight meeting and after a short safety briefing they boarded the DC-8 for an 11-hour-long survey of the Ferrigno and Alison ice streams that empty into the Bellingshausen Sea.

In addition to being a distinguished career diplomat, Wolff is interested in science, particularly in international scientific collaboration. “Science cooperation is an important part of the U.S. – Chile relationship,” Wolff said. Although this was his first flight with IceBridge, this wasn’t the ambassador’s first trip to Antarctica. He visited Palmer Station years ago and says that while flying over the continent isn’t the same as being on the ground, it does give a better sense of its dimensions.

U.S. Ambassador to Chile Alejandro Wolff in the IceBridge operations center at the Punta Arenas airport on the morning of Oct. 25.

U.S. Ambassador to Chile Alejandro Wolff in the IceBridge operations center at the Punta Arenas airport on themorning of Oct. 25. Credit: NASA / George Hale

Ambassador Wolff in the DC-8 cockpit shortly after takeoff on Oct. 25.

AmbassadorWolff in the NASA DC-8 cockpit shortly after takeoffon Oct. 25. Credit: NASA / George Hale

The ambassador and Ms. Jinnette exiting the DC-8 after another successful IceBridge survey flight.

Ambassador Wolff and Ms. Jinnette exiting the DC-8 after another successful IceBridgesurvey flight. Credit: NASA / Jefferson Beck

To the Ends of the Earth

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By Christy Hansen, IceBridge Project Manager, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

If somebody had told me that 2012 would bring with it a deployment to Greenland, Chile, and possibly Antarctica, I never would have believed them. But here I am reflecting back on my three weeks in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, as I pack for Punta Arenas, Chile. These experiences have been made possible by my new assignment as the project manager of a NASA airborne geophysical project called Operation IceBridge (OIB).

Christy Hansen in Kanger, Greenland, after one of Operation IceBridge’s science flights. Behind her is the air traffic control tower, as well as the P-3B propellers.
Christy Hansen in Kanger, Greenland, after one of Operation IceBridge’s science flights. Behind her is the air traffic control tower, as well as the P-3B propellers. Credit: Christy Hansen

I started full-time work with OIB this past March. What I truly enjoy about this project is the remarkably talented and extensive team I work with. As the project manager, I must coordinate and help lead a vast team of experts spread out across the country. This team includes polar scientists, instrument engineers, educational/outreach teams, logistics teams, data centers, and aircraft offices. I have to utilize good leadership and communications skills to help my integrated team work together smoothly to achieve a common goal and meet all of our science objectives.

Christy Hansen stands in front of an airplane at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. This plane took her to Greenland this past April.
Christy Hansen stands in front of an airplane at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. This plane took her to Greenland this past April. Credit: Matt Linkswiler

Twice a year, the OIB team travels to Earth’s polar regions to collect data on the changing ice sheets, glaciers, and sea ice. For the Arctic campaign, we use the P-3B 4-engine turbo-prop airplane at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility. It has been modified to carry nine different science instruments, including laser altimeters, which measure the different heights of the terrain from aircraft, and various types of radar systems that can actually penetrate the thick ice sheets.

Just four weeks after I started as project manager, I found myself landing in a small Southwestern Greenlandic town called Kangerlussuaq. There was snow on the runway and everyone was bundled in coats. The majority of the buildings looked like military barracks. Most of the OIB team was already there, and they greeted me at the plane. At the time, I knew only one person, the project scientist, and we had only spoken a few times! What an adventure awaited me!

A view of sea ice with open leads of water.
A view of sea ice with open leads of water. Credit: Christy Hansen

An image of a glacier’s calving front, where it flows and loses ice to the sea.
An image of a glacier’s calving front, where it flows and loses ice to the sea. Credit: Christy Hansen

Each day, we flew at 1500 feet, seemingly scraping the surface of the massive Greenland ice sheet. I felt as though I could have touched it with my fingers if I had just stretched out my hand. It was beautiful.

Watching the team work together like a well-oiled machine, for almost 8 hours at a time, was simply awesome. The pilots, the aircraft maintenance team, and the instrument experts, who collect gigabytes and terabytes of data per flight, collect the invaluable data that tells us what is happening at our poles, and how much the ice is changing each year.

The plane flies over sea ice. The P-3B propeller can be seen out the window of the plane.
The plane flies over sea ice. The P-3B propeller can be seen out the window of the plane. Credit: Christy Hansen

Christy Hansen sits on a toolbox while she working on the Operation IceBridge flight. She is surrounded by various scientific instruments.
Christy Hansen sits on a toolbox while she working on the Operation IceBridge flight. She is surrounded by various scientific instruments. Credit: Christy Hansen

My second trip to collect data with the OIB team began last September. For the Antarctic campaign, we use NASA Dryden Flight Research Center’s DC-8 aircraft and operate out of Punta Arenas, Chile. During this Chilean campaign, we will actually fly from Chile, over specific science target regions in Antarctica, and then land back in Chile! That’s an 11-hour round trip flight almost every day!

Christy Hansen hugs the Russell glacier, part of the Greenland Ice Sheet.
Christy Hansen hugs the Russell glacier, part of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Credit: Christy Hansen

Isn’t this exciting? If you want to learn more about what I do and Operation IceBridge’s current Antarctic campaign, join my Google+ Hangout on Wednesday, October 17th from 1-2pm EST. I look forward to talking to you from Chile.

Editors note: This feature was originally posted on NASA’s Earth Science Week Blog

 

Operation IceBridge Arrives in Chile

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By Michael Studinger, IceBridge Project Scientist, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

SANTIAGO, CHILE – Last night the DC-8 took off for a 10.7 hour long transit flight from NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operation Facility in Palmdale, Calif.,  to Santiago, Chile. We took off shortly before midnight to arrive in Santiago at midday. Flying through the dark of night meant the cabin of the DC-8 was mainly illuminated by the many computer screens, creating an unusual view for the instrument teams who are used to flying science missions during daylight.

DC-8 on ramp at Dryden
The DC-8 is being prepared at night on the ramp in Palmdale for the transit flight to Punta Arenas, Chile. Credit: NASA/Michael Studinger

DC-8 cabin in the dark

The DC-8 cabin during the night flight from Palmdale to Santiago. Credit: NASA/Michael Studinger

The 10.7 hour long transit flight puts things into perspective. The distance from Palmdale, in the Mojave Desert, to Santiago is 5,761 miles (9,271 km). This is 2.3 times the distance between Los Angeles and New York City. Tomorrow morning we will continue our flight to Punta Arenas at the southern tip of Chile, which will be our base of operations for the coming weeks for sciences flights over Antarctica. In total we will have traveled 7,292 miles (11,735 km) from Palmdale. The map below shows that we have traveled a long way around the globe. Our flight takes us over the Pacific Ocean along the coast of Mexico heading towards Galápagos Islands and continuing along the coast of South America and into Santiago, Chile.

Transit route of the DC-8

Transit route of the DC-8 from Palmdale to Santiago and Punta Arenas in southern Chile. Credit: NASA/Michael Studinger
The transit flight also reminds me about the large distance that we cover during each of our Antarctic science flights. A typical science flight is 11 hours long and we routinely travel a distance that is longer that the trip from Los Angeles to New York and back. The long legs of the DC-8 allow us to reach scientific targets in Antarctica that have been, and still are, a challenge to survey. I have to remind myself on every flight that we are collecting data that would be very challenging to get if we did not have the DC-8.

Tomorrow morning we will continue our flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas, to set up there, installing base stations and data processing computers, and will then start flying science missions over Antarctica to collect data. Coming back year after year it is interesting to see the changes in the sea ice and glaciers and ice sheets over time.

IceBridge Over the Desert

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By Claire Saravia, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Office of Communications


Before the instruments aboard NASA’s Operation IceBridge fly over Antarctica in October to collect polar ice data, they will be tested over an unlikely ice substitute: a series of sites in the Mojave Desert.

The instruments that are part of IceBridge—a six-year flight mission designed to study ice at the Earth’s poles and bridge the gap between the two ICESat missions —are put through test flights every year to ensure they’re functioning properly.

This year, instruments like the Airborne Topographic Mapper (ATM) will use three separate sites in the California desert as a dress rehearsal for one of the real mission flights.

View of the Mojave Desert from the DC-8
View of the Mojave Desert from the DC-8. Credit: NASA/J. Yungel

While it might seem counterintuitive to use a desert to simulate land filled with ice, ATM scientist John Sonntag said the area’s land features and reflective sand produce a similar landscape.

“The variety of terrain and surface reflectance over these lines will allow us to adjust the ATM for a wide variety of targets, thus increasing the reliability of the system once we get over Antarctica,” Sonntag said.

The IceBridge mission scientists aren’t the first to use the dry, sandy area to portray its icy counterpart. Sonntag said the test flight would be using some of the same tracks used during test flights of the ICESat mission as a way to compare measurements.

“We continue to overfly these tracks as part of ATM calibrations because we can compare the results with over flights of those same targets in previous years,” Sonntag said. “These comparisons will allow us to adjust the calibration parameters of the ATM with great precision.”

One of the desert features that will be used in the test flight is the El Mirage dry lake, which Sonntag said is frequently featured as a scenic backdrop in both movies and car commercials.

“El Mirage is a nearly ideal site for doing these laser calibrations because it is large, relatively flat, completely unobstructed by overhead features such as power lines and light poles, and has a bright laser reflectance similar to snow and ice,” Sonntag said.

The El Mirage dry lake in the Mojave Desert
The El Mirage dry lake in the Mojave Desert. Credit: NASA/J. Yungel

While it would be more ideal to use actual snowy surfaces to test the instruments, ATM program manager James Yungel said the easy access to sand regions outside both the NASA Wallops Flight Facility and the Dryden Flight Research Center made it the next best thing.

“Finding snow near Wallops or Dryden when we install on the aircraft can be difficult, but both NASA home airports have sand beaches or sand desert regions that are fairly close to snow reflectivity,” Yungel said. “These sandy sites allow us to tune the ATM systems for actual snow targets.”

IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger said the fact that the scientists know the desert sites well makes them a popular spot for adjusting the instruments to measure ice.

“This is necessary so that we can collect high quality data over unknown targets like the Antarctic ice sheet and be confident that we have an extremely precise measurement of the ice surface elevation,” Studinger said. “It’s not about the precise location, but calibrating the radar for the signal that is transmitted from the antennas and then reflected back from the layers in the ice sheet and glaciers.”

IceBridge conducted two equipment checkout flights, one over the Pacific Ocean on Oct. 2 and one over the Mojave Desert on Oct. 3. The IceBridge Antarctic campaign is scheduled to begin with its first science flight on or about Oct. 11, 2012.

Preparing the DC-8 for Antarctica 2012

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By George Hale, IceBridge Science Outreach Coordinator, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Over the next few weeks the IceBridge team will prepare NASA’s DC-8 airborne laboratory for the 2012 Antarctic campaign. Long hours in the hangar at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Facility mean that the MCoRDS antenna and Airborne Topographic Mapper have been installed and all ground tests for ATM are complete. Next week, the radar and gravimeter teams will begin their preparation work.

IceBridge DC-8 preparing for outdoor ATM ground test

IceBridge DC-8 preparing for outdoor ATM ground test. Credit: NASA / Tom Tschida

MCoRDS antenna installed on the DC-8

MCoRDS antenna installed on the DC-8. Credit: NASA / Tom Tschida

Airborne Topographic Mapper instrument installed inside the DC-8
ATM instrument installed inside the DC-8. Credit: NASA / Tom Tschida

ATM team member Jim Yungel (front) and Matt Linkswiler make last minute adjustments to the instrument

ATM team member Jim Yungel (front) and Matt Linkswiler finish installing the ATM instrument assembly. Credit: NASA / Tom Tschida

ATM consoles installed in DC-8 cabin
ATM team members (left to right) Matt Linkswiler, Robert Harpold and Brad Grantham carry out ATM functional tests. Credit: NASA / Tom Tschida

ATM laser trace on hangar floor
ATM laser trace on hangar floor. Credit: NASA / Tom Tschida

The end of a successful ATM ground test. Pictured left to right: Kevin Mount, Robert Harpold, Jim Yungel,Lorenzo Sanchez, Joe Niquette and Matt Linkswiler. Credit: NASA / Tom Tschida