Tag Archives: Antarctic 2012

Keeping IceBridge Flying

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

Success in science takes many things. Dedication and hard work are just a couple, but one thing that airborne science requires that other disciplines don’t need is aircraft. Without aircraft airborne science would just be science. And one thing is certain about aircraft. They require constant and vigilant maintenance to keep operating at their peak. NASA airborne missions like Operation IceBridge rely on skilled and dedicated mechanics and technicians to keep their planes flying in some of the harshest conditions around.

But finding people with the right balance of training and temperament to work on NASA’s fleet of aircraft is becoming more difficult. With a decreasing interest in working in the aviation field, an aging workforce and increasingly specialized training needed, NASA managers are finding it harder to hire the kind of people needed to keep things going.

The IceBridge DC-8 undergoing final preparations for the first Antarctic campaign flight of 2012.
The IceBridge DC-8 undergoing final preparations for the first Antarctic campaign flight of 2012. Credit: NASA / Jeremy Harbeck

Top-notch Training

Being an aviation mechanic requires something called an aircraft and power plant, or A&P license, which gives its holders permission to work on any aircraft the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration controls, from ultralights to jumbo jets. The FAA only grants this license after applicants have completed rigorous training and passed three written, three oral and three hands-on tests. “Before you even get to put your hands on an airplane, there’s a lot of stuff you have to do,” said NASA DC-8 crew chief James C. Smith III.

Most people in the field got their training in one of two places. “You can either go to a two-year college or get what you need through military experience,” said Smith, who spent years in the U.S. Army working on helicopters. Today an increasing proportion come from the military as civilian training programs have been losing popularity. “Several college specific A&P schools have closed because they don’t have enough people coming through,” Smith said.

NASA's Ikhana uninhabited aerial vehicle, one of the many aircraft that NASA's technicians keep in top condition.
NASA’s Ikhana uninhabited aerial vehicle, one of the many aircraft that NASA’s technicians keep in top condition. Credit: NASA / James C. Smith III

NASA engineering technician Rich Souza came to NASA after several years both in the U.S. Air Force and private industry. Souza specializes in aircraft engines, working in the engine shop at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center and keeps the DC-8 running at its peak. For him, the military was a great way to go and he recommends it to anyone who is interested in doing hands-on work with aircraft. “They give you the skillset, the aptitude and the attitude you need to do your job,” Souza said.

Brad Grantham, a NASA avionics technician, also speaks highly of military training, though he earned his position in a less conventional way. He started working with aircraft right after high school, taking a low-paying entry level job and working his way up the ladder. “Any time I found a position to advance and learn more about aircraft systems, I took it,” Grantham said. Avionics, Grantham’s specialty, covers everything electronic in the aircraft from navigation systems to the plane’s satellite communications system, all important when flying anywhere, let alone over Antarctica. “An aircraft can’t just pull over if there’s a problem,” Grantham said.

Avionics technician Brad Grantham (right) and Airborne Topographic Mapper team members Matt Linkswiler and Robert Harpold prepare instruments for the IceBridge campaign.
Avionics technician Brad Grantham (right) and Airborne Topographic Mapper team members Matt Linkswiler (left) and Robert Harpold prepare instruments for the IceBridge campaign. Credit: NASA / Tom Tschida

Never a Dull Moment

No matter how one learns about aviation, once at NASA, technicians enter a field where no two days are the same. Technicians are always reconfiguring aircraft for different missions and although they may have favorite aircraft, they work on more than just one. NASA’s fleet is diverse, ranging from the propeller-driven P-3B, to giant 747s, to the ER-2 high-altitude research aircraft and a variety of other planes.

This diversity of aircraft brings a refreshing variety to a busy job, but one of the big perks of working on NASA aircraft is that technicians go where the plane goes. Grantham and Souza have traveled many places around the world during their time with NASA and both have deployed to Punta Arenas, Chile, three times to support the DC-8 for Operation IceBridge.

In addition to their usual ground duties, working on aircraft mechanical and electrical systems, NASA technicians also pull a second duty as safety techs aboard the aircraft. This involves showing passengers how to use the aircraft’s safety equipment, keeping the aircraft clean and everything aboard secure and generally keeping everyone on board safe. Flying on scientific missions aboard planes they maintain is another thing that separates NASA’s technicians from aviation techs in other organizations. “It’s nice to see things from both sides,” said Grantham.

Group photo of IceBridge team in front of the NASA DC-8.
Group photo of IceBridge team in front of the NASA DC-8. Credit: NASA

The Path Taken

The road to becoming one of the people responsible for keeping NASA’s planes flying begins early on. Both Souza and Grantham realized at a young age that they wanted to work with aircraft in a personal and hands-on way. Preparing for such a career means getting as much experience as you can with anything mechanical and electrical. “It gives a good baseline for further training,” said Souza.

Experience and knowledge count but hard work and adaptability are just as important. You need to stay positive and be enthusiastic. “I worked hard jobs to get better jobs,” Grantham said. “When you do hard work you get to learn more.” Also, being able to adapt to changing situations is vital. “You n ever quite know where you might go next or what you’ll be working on,” Souza said. “So you need to keep on your toes.”

With many of the aviation industry and NASA’s experienced technicians retiring and an impending shortage of qualified people, a career in aviation with NASA is something that many recommend for those who want to travel, do hands-on work and always have something new to learn and do. “It’s a pretty cool job,” Souza said. “How many people get to fly over Antarctica?”

A Balance Between Two Extremes

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By Nathan Kurtz, IceBridge scientist, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Morgan State Univ. 

Something quite unexpected happened to me during this IceBridge campaign. In fact, something was missing: much of the sense of awe and wonder which I had on my previous three missions was gone. Once there was excitement to see new and inspiring sights, but now there was routine and a sense that I had seen this all before. Despite spectacular views of the polar landscape outside the window of the DC-8 aircraft, I was more often concerned with analyzing data from past IceBridge campaigns than taking time out to look outside.

Bothered by my inability to be moved by my chosen subject of study I forced myself to stare out the aircraft window in hopes that renewed interest would strike. As the silent scenes of the ice scrolled by below me a quote by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft kept running through my head like the background score of a movie: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” After a long bout of reflection I finally realized what the connection was: my sense of awe and wonder wasn’t actually missing, it had simply been hidden away. Only by finding this missing aspect again could I finally experience the renewed interest I was looking for and incorporate this into a deeper respect for the significance of my role as a scientist in the IceBridge mission.

Low-lying clouds over sea ice on the Bellingshausen Sea.
Low-lying clouds over sea ice on the Bellingshausen Sea. Credit: NASA / Maria-Jose Vinas

Wrapped in the relative safety of the airplane and content with my knowledge of the physical processes which formed the massive ice sheets around me I had only a vague feeling of missing something. This missing aspect was fear. My familiarity with everything around me caused me to be complacent and lose a healthy sense of fear for the world outside my window. I had become the consummate scientist who fashions the world into nothing more than a series of numbers, equations, and rules. Once the unknown was made known my sense of fear was gone as everything seemed to be explainable according to well-described laws. Such is the dilemma of the scientist: one may be criticized as being arrogant for making sweeping claims of knowledge of unbelievably complex phenomenon, yet possessing a high confidence is also necessary to know that it is indeed possible and correct to make such claims with sufficient data.

This is in stark contrast to my previous experiences flying with the IceBridge mission. In my first flight over the Antarctic sea ice two years ago I felt an indescribable rush of fear and excitement as a vast and remote new world opened up before my eyes. I had never seen anything like it before and felt terrified viewing the harshness of the region. I knew that I’d have little chance to survive if I left the safety of the airplane. I also felt that all of the scientific facts I had read about the polar regions had done little to capture the complexity of everything around me. That I had much to learn before I could properly do my job as a scientist and make broad claims about the state of the polar regions based on the data we were collecting.

Somewhere between these two extremes of fear lies a balance that needs to be attained. Some fear is healthy, it allows one to have humility and respect for forces of nature which are beyond the powers of people to control, but that it is also possible to understand these forces in order to live in harmony with them. Too much fear is unhealthy and can lead to a paralysis of thought and action and distortion of the truth to protect one from an uncomfortable reality. These two extremes of fear seem to define an ongoing conflict between science and society, particularly with regards to the polar regions. In recognizing this, it also gives the potential for scientists to form a bridge between these two conflicting groups.

Sunlight reflecting off refrozen leads in sea ice in the Bellingshausen Sea.
Sunlight reflecting off refrozen leads in sea ice in the Bellingshausen Sea. Credit: NASA / Jefferson Beck

In my experience, most people see the polar regions in a generally negative light, one that is based on fear. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the arts which are a good barometer (and influential aspect) of the prevailing view of society. Classic writers such as Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe wrote stories about the polar regions and portrayed them as places filled with supernatural terrors. This attitude can be seen in contemporary literature as well. For example, popular author George R.R. Martin uses a cold region beyond a great wall of ice as a place where unseen evils lie in wait to tear down a society excessively focused on politics and power games. The artist Edwin Landseer, mostly known for his pleasing pictures of animals, chose to use the polar regions as the backdrop for his controversial painting ‘Man Proposes, God Disposes’ which gruesomely depicts the end of an ill-fated polar expedition. A plethora of horror movies such as The Thing and 30 Days of Night use the polar regions as a setting for tales of terror. These are but a few examples of the negative fear-based depiction of the polar regions in our culture. But is the prevailing view of the polar regions only this and nothing more, a bleak place for us to project our fears?

Aside from only one happy movie (Happy Feet), I can think of positive portrayals of the polar regions mainly in science texts and documentaries. Science is providing (to paraphrase Carl Sagan) a candle in the dark to make a feared unknown into something known. One of these feared aspects is the big question of what changes are happening in the polar regions and to what extent are these changes influencing the global climate. From my own studies of sea ice I have seen large decreases in both the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice, while the Antarctic sea ice cover has shown a small increase in extent over the last three decades and no statistically significant trends in thickness. Models show that the Antarctic sea ice extent may counter-intuitively increase over the next few decades under a warming climate, but if the warming continues it will begin to decrease again. A decrease in the global coverage of sea ice is expected to cause changes to the global deep ocean circulation as well as increase the amount of absorbed solar radiation which will lead to increased global temperatures. These are simple facts obtained from scientific observations and model physics. Facts such as these are not scary, and if utilized properly they should serve as vital sources of information. Not to paralyze our thoughts in fear, or to give a false illusion of control. But if used with a sense of humility they can be used to promote and guide positive and constructive action.

This is where the IceBridge mission can play a role, and something I realize this trip has inspired me to work towards. Confronting the unknown through exploration and gathering of scientific facts. Presenting the facts as accurately possible is the only way to make the unknown known and unite the world of science with the human element. That is, to allow scientific knowledge to be used as a tool to improve the lives of people. Having spent several weeks with the unique and interesting people that make up the IceBridge mission I am sure that we can do things to the best of our ability. To shine some truth and light on the unknown and work towards getting rid of a climate of fear.

Group photo of IceBridge team in front of the NASA DC-8.
Group photo of IceBridge team in front of the NASA DC-8. Credit: NASA

Seeing Data Collection Firsthand

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By Donghui Yi, Remote Sensing Scientist, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Punta Arenas, Chile is a city with friendly people, rich history, beautiful beach, and spectacular lenticular clouds. Participating in IceBridge’s 2012 Antarctic campaign based at the Punta Arenas airport was an amazing experience for me. I study Airborne Topographic Mapper (ATM) laser waveforms and different tracking algorithms and their influence on elevation measurements. Participating in IceBridge flights let me see ATM instrument setup and operation firsthand.

The flights I was on covered the Antarctic Peninsula, Bellingshausen and Amundsen seas, West Antarctic ice sheet, Weddell Sea, Ronne and Filchner ice shelves and a portion of the East Antarctic ice sheet. The highest latitude we reached was over 86 degrees south. From NASA’s DC-8 aircraft, the beauty of Antarctica’s sea ice, coast, mountains and ice sheets is breathtaking. From a typical survey height of 500 meters above surface, you see an Antarctic you cannot see from surface or from a satellite image. It makes the over 11-hour flight an exciting and enjoyable journey each time.

Antarctic mountains seen from the DC-8
Antarctic mountains seen from the DC-8. Credit: NASA / Donghui Yi

It was also amazing to see the spatial and temporal variability of the clouds over Antarctica, which can go from the surface to several kilometers high and can be continuous or have numerous layers. Even between the surface and a typical survey altitude of 500 meters, there can be so many layers in between, low and high. The IceBridge team and airport meteorologists did an unbelievable job predicting where clear sky regions would be, a critical part for the missions’ success. Without this critical information, the management team would not be able to make the right decisions to determine survey passes.

The flight crew and instrument engineers are wonderful people to work with and their skills and dedication to the project command our utmost respect. The firsthand experience of sea ice and ice sheet data collection is invaluable to my research. This trip itself was a bridge between a scientist and engineers.

Video Post: Chilean Teacher Shares IceBridge Experience

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

On Nov. 1, 2012, two science teachers from Punta Arenas, Chile, accompanied IceBridge researchers on a survey flight over Antarctica. Below are videos from one of these teachers, Mario Esquivel of the Colegio Francés (French School) in Punta Arenas.

The first video, Operación Icebridge en Antartica 2012 (Viaje Profesores Chilenos con la NASA), shows photographs Esquivel took during the Nov. 1, 2102 survey of the Ronne Ice Shelf.
The second video, Xchat between NASA Icebridge from DC-8 over Antarctica and Colegio Francés Punta Arenas Chile, shows photographs from a Chilean classroom and quotes from online chat question and answer sessions between students and IceBridge personnel on the NASA DC-8.
 


 Video about Mario Esquivel’s IceBridge experience. Credit:
Mario Esquivel


 Video showing students communicating with IceBridge personnel on the NASA DC-8 via online chat. 
Credit: Mario Esquivel

Scientific Snapshots: Using IceBridge Data in the Field

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

Every IceBridge flight adds to a growing collection of geophysical data. Gigabytes of information on surface elevation, ice thickness and sub-ice bedrock topography are collected, but collecting the data is only the beginning of the job. After each campaign, information is downloaded from the instruments and processed to be delivered to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado, who store IceBridge data and make it freely available to the public.

Preparing data to send to NSIDC is a long and painstaking process, usually taking about six months. Before even starting data processing for the Airborne Topographic Mapper, IceBridge’s laser altimeter instrument, it’s necessary to calculate aircraft position and attitude and even mounting biases on ATM’s laser itself. “Once all the calibrations take place, the processing of all the ATM lidar data can take place,” said ATM program manager Jim Yungel. After that, processing to remove returns from clouds and ice fog and quality checking takes place. And because there are two ATM lidars, one narrow-band and one medium-band, this process is done twice and the results are compared.

But sometimes researchers want a visual representation of something interesting in the field. By combining lidar data with rough GPS trajectories and information from the aircraft’s inertial navigation system, researchers like Yungel can use a custom-built graphics program to create visual representations of the ice. These snapshots of the surface aren’t meant to be precise, but to give IceBridge scientists a rough idea of what was seen, and when combined with images from the aircraft’s Digital Mapping System, it’s easy to see side-by-side, a representation of what information the instruments collect. Below are a few representations of features seen during 2012 Antarctic campaign flights.

A graphical representation of processed Airborne Topographic Mapper data.
A graphical representation of processed Airborne Topographic Mapper data from the 2011 Antarctic campaign showing the rift in Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier. Credit: NASA / ATM Team


Animation showing ATM data representation of Pine Island Glacier rift and images from the Digital Mapping System
Animation showing a 2012 ATM data representation of Pine Island Glacier rift and images from the Digital Mapping System. Credit: NASA / ATM and DMS teams


Crevasses in a glacier seen from the DC-8 near the Ronne Ice Shelf on Nov. 1.
Crevasses in a glacier seen from the DC-8 near the Ronne Ice Shelf on Nov. 1. Credit: NASA / Jim Yungel
ATM data representation of the glacier crevasses seen on the Nov. 1, 2012 flight.
ATM data representation of the glacier crevasses seen on the Nov. 1, 2012 flight. Credit: NASA / ATM

IceBridge Guests Get Behind the Scenes View

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By Maria Jose Viñas, Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory Outreach Coordinator, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

We sure had a packed plane on today’s flight, with visitors from the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, the Nathaniel B. Palmer, a Punta Arenas newspaper and two local schools. The Chilean teachers are the first to ever accompany IceBridge on an Antarctic mission (five docents had a chance to go on Arctic flights last spring). Carmen Gallardo, who teaches biology at Punta Arenas’ Colegio Alemán (German School) to kids ages 13 to 18 and Mario Esquivel, an astronomy teacher for students ages 9 to 14 at the local Colegio Francés (French School), were selected by the American Embassy in Santiago to fly on the DC-8 based on their English skills and, more importantly, on their plans to share their IceBridge experience with their classrooms and colleagues.

Visitors prior to boarding an IceBridge survey flight
Visitors to IceBridge prior to a survey flight on Nov. 1. Credit: NASA / Maria Jose Viñas

“From the point of the U.S. Government, what we want the most is to reach the Chilean youth – and we do it through their educators,” said Dinah Arnett, public affairs representative from the U.S. Embassy in Santiago.

Arnett was impressed with the enthusiasm and commitment of both teachers: they thoroughly researched the IceBridge mission beforehand and patiently went through two last-minute flight cancellations. But, as Gallardo said after yesterday’s flight was scrubbed: “Third time’s the charm!”

At the end of the almost 12-hour flight, both teachers were in awe of the sights they had enjoyed over the Antarctic Peninsula and the Ronne Ice Shelf during the Ronne Grounding Line mission. And they both thanked the researchers for their willingness to share their science. In turn, the educators plan on spreading the IceBridge word: both will be creating multimedia exhibits and giving talks to students from and beyond their schools.

IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger and Chilean teacher Mario Esquivel looking at a map on the NASA DC-8
IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger and Chilean teacher Mario Esquivel looking at a map on the NASA DC-8. Credit: NASA / Jefferson Beck

Columbia University geophysicist Kirsty Tinto explains the science behind the gravimeter instrument
Columbia University geophysicist Kirsty Tinto explains the science behind the gravimeter instrument. Credit: NASA / Jefferson Beck

Port of Inquiry: IceBridge visits the Nathaniel B. Palmer

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

With its proximity to the Antarctic Peninsula, Punta Arenas, Chile, a city on the Strait of Magellan in southern South America, is a popular destination for scientists on their way to Antarctica. Not onlydoes NASA’s Operation IceBridge use the Punta Arenas airport as a home baseduring its Antarctic campaign in October and November, the city is also a base of operations for a variety of Antarctic science missions. During this year’s Antarctic campaign, the IceBridge team got to take a close up look at the United States Antarctic Program’sicebreaker Nathaniel B. Palmer, which calls Punta Arenas home.

On Oct. 24, Jamee Johnson and Chris Linden of the United StatesAntarctic Program led a group of IceBridge personnel on a guided tour of thePalmer. The research vessel is waiting in the port of Punta Arenas until lateDecember or early January, when it will carry scientists and their equipment toMcMurdo Station in Antarctica, conducting experiments along the way. Once there, passengers willoffload and a new group of people and gear will board the icebreaker for a returntrip to Punta Arenas.

IceBridge personnel standing outside the Nathaniel B. Palmer
IceBridge personnel on the dock in Punta Arenas in front of the Nathaniel B. Palmer. Credit: NASA / Christy Hanse nand USAP / Jamee Johnson

The Palmer is a 6,500 ton icebreaking research vessel thattravels to and from bases in Antarctica like United States’ McMurdo Station.The vessel sails from one of its home ports, like Punta Arenas, carrying scientists who do research along the way. During thetour, IceBridge personnel got to see some of the ship’s five labs, the galley,the infirmary and the ship’s bridge, where they met Sebastian Paoni, captain of the Palmer since2007.

Captain Sebastian Paoni talks to IceBridge people on the bridge
Palmer Captain Sebastian Paoni (right) meets visitors on the bridge. Credit: NASA / George Hale

In many ways, thePalmer is similar to other large, ocean-going research ships. There are placesfor crew and passengers to sleep, eat, relax, exercise and socialize. Withtrips to sea lasting several weeks at a time, ships like the Palmer need to beself-contained floating cities, carrying enough food, water, spare parts andother supplies needed to keep the crew and passengers safe and happy.

The big difference between the Palmer and other research vessels is that it has a reinforced hull designed to let it break through ice, opening a passage to travel through. There are limits to how thick of ice the ship can break through, so planning the ship’s route often requires satellite imagery and other data that can show where thinner ice is. Sailing through ice is a slow and often noisy process, but when your path is blocked by sea ice, slow and noisy beats not atall.

Science By Air and Sea

The Palmer and IceBridge’s aircraft both gather geophysical data, and despite the different nature of these platforms the instruments have some similarities. In the labs, Linden, a senior systems analystaboard the Palmer, showed IceBridge team members several different instruments, such as including a gravimeter and a sonar system used to map the ocean floor. Thesonar uses a technique to create swaths of data that resemble theswaths of elevation data produced by IceBridge’s Airborne Topographic Mapperinstrument. 

Probably the biggest similarities are dealing with motion and the changing array of instruments used. Scientists need to counteract motion from either a rolling ship or vibrating airplane, which is handled in both cases by referencing the instruments with data from GPS and inertial guidance systems. Also, much like on NASA’s aircraft, the instruments on the Palmer change depending on what is being studied. Changing the configuration of the ship’s equipment is something Johnson said is one of the most interesting parts of the job.

In return for graciously taking visitors on a tour of the ship, IceBridge invited some Palmer personnel to come along on a survey flight. People working on icebreakers rely on information about sea ice to plan their routes and although IceBridge data isn’t directly used, flying along will give them a chance to see how the mission measures ice from the air.

Palmer visitors stand on the helipad on the Palmer's stern
Palmer visitors stand on the helipad on the Palmer’s stern. Credit: NASA / Christy Hansen and USAP / Jamee Johnson

For more information about the Nathaniel B. Palmer, visit: http://www.usap.gov/usapgov/vesselScienceAndOperations/index.cfm?m=4

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.

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