Tag Archives: Earth

Cryo Lab at Goddard’s Science Jamboree

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

On July 16, researchers from the Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory took part in this year’s Science Jamboree, part of a three-day employee engagement event at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Science Jamboree is a chance for Goddard employees to learn more about what scientists and engineers are doing in their labs and offices. The event features tables, posters and activities for the various missions and labs working at Goddard.

The lab’s table this year featured informational material from Operation IceBridge such as models of the NASA DC-8 and P-3B, hands on materials like extreme cold weather gear and a sample of an ice core from Greenland and posters showing off the lab’s research with messages in English, Danish and Greenlandic that were created through a collaboration between NASA, the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen and the governments of Greenland and Denmark.

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IceBridge the subject of interest at two meetings

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

Operation IceBridge has been a subject of interest over the past two weeks in different parts of the world, with a presentation in Copenhagen on the mission’s recent work and the Antarctic campaign science operations meeting in Seattle.

At a meeting of the U.S.-Denmark-Greenland Joint Committee in Copenhagen on June 13, U.S. Embassy public affairs officer Robert Kerr delivered a presentation on the cooperative education and outreach efforts that took place during the 2012 Arctic campaign. During his presentation, Kerr talked about the joint effort between NASA, embassy personnel, and people from the Danish and Greenlandic education ministries to provide a research experience for Danish and Greenlandic teachers. He also spoke on their work getting journalists on board the NASA P-3B and showed examples of upcoming articles by a Danish reporter.

The IceBridge science and instrument teams held their 2012 Antarctic campaign planning meeting in Seattle from June 20-22. The meeting featured speakers from the IceBridge science and instrument teams, the Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and from NASA headquarters. There were also planning sessions for the upcoming Antarctic campaign. Speakers talked about the various IceBridge instruments, the 2012 Arctic campaign, NASA’s overall vision for IceBridge, the future of the mission and the status of ICESat-2, scheduled for launch in early 2016.

Science and instrument team members at the Antarctic campaign planning meeting at the University of Washington in Seattle.

IceBridge science and instrument team members at the Antarctic campaign planning meeting at the University of Washington in Seattle. Credit: Hajo Eiken/ University of Alaska – Fairbanks.

During the breakout planning sessions, team members summarized the collected mission plans for Antarctica, identified the need for additional missions and discussed future directions and potential new measurement requirements. The IceBridge science meeting is one of many steps on the way to the Antarctic campaign scheduled to start later this year.

Second Weddell Sea Ice Mission and CryoSat Underflight

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From: Nathan Kurtz, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Our flight today, Oct. 28, was a partial repeat of a mission conducted last year. The flight was to take place at 1,500 feet along the western edge of the Weddell Sea following the Antarctic Peninsula, turning south and east along the Ronne Ice Shelf, then heading north into the central Weddell Sea. The primary instruments used on this flight were a specially designed suite of laser and radar altimeters for measuring the thickness of the snow and ice underneath.

I began my journey in the cockpit of the NASA DC-8, my first time seeing what all is involved in bringing a large aircraft from the runway into the sky. We took off on schedule flying briefly around the countryside surrounding Punta Arenas, heading back over the airport ramp to calibrate some of the instruments. We then started our push towards the Weddell Sea. Along the way there were spectacular views of the normally cloud enshrouded mountains and glaciers of Tierra del Fuego. Even at an altitude of 18,000 ft the 8,000 ft peaks looked a bit too close for comfort, but the calmness and confidence of the pilots helped rid my mind of any thoughts of catastrophe.

After a couple hours transiting through serene blue skies we spotted the Antarctic Peninsula and began our descent to low altitude. My first ever science flight to the polar regions from two days ago was still fresh in my mind, but the view of the pristine landscape still captivated me. As we passed over the peninsula, there were breathtaking views of jagged brown mountains, bright white snow, sky blue glacier ice, and murky black water all mixed together in a chaotic jumble. I was struck by how truly remote and harsh the world down below was. A place only for well prepared humans and the hardiest of animals. Despite the uninviting look of the land below, I couldn’t help imagining what it might be like to ride a sled or go skiing down some of the mountains.

As we left the peninsula, we passed southward over still waters filled with icebergs, finally entering into the sea ice region to begin our science mission. We first entered into a region of small sea ice floes which had been broken up by wind and waves. The aircraft instruments showed the surface and air temperatures were near the freezing point, probably the reason for the absence of any newly growing ice in the open water areas. As we continued our flight southward we entered the consolidated ice cover of the western Weddell Sea. The region we were flying over today is some of the thickest and most compact ice in the Southern Ocean. The vastness of the sea ice cover became readily apparent as this leg of the journey consisted of miles of ice extending into the horizon in all directions. The area was a mixture of open water, freshly grown ice, smooth areas, rubble fields, ridges, and many other ice types each with intricate geometries reflecting the physical processes which shaped their formation. Towards the end of the peninsula region we turned east following the outline of the Ronne Ice Shelf. Though we couldn’t see it in the distance, evidence of its presence was all around us as numerous icebergs could be seen. The huge size of the icebergs dwarfed the surrounding sea ice, but the icebergs were held steady inside like giants chained into a prison of sea ice.

The sea ice itself looked benign and serene, like a vast unmoving and unchanging landscape. But looks can be deceptive as the aircraft instruments showed temperatures of -10 C and 60+ mph winds outside. Telltale signs of the force of wind and water acting on the ice could be seen in the piled up and crushed ice of the ridges. The wind had also blown the snow into patterns called sastrugi, some of them looked like flowers dotting the landscape. The plane marched on relentlessly throughout the day as miles of sea ice passed below us. The last leg of the science portion of the flight took us underneath the orbit of CryoSat-2, a radar altimeter launched earlier this year by ESA.


Data from the Airborne Topographic Mapper (ATM) show a swath of sea ice at the time of the CryoSat-2 overpass on Oct. 28, 2010. Data in this image are preliminary. Credit: NASA/ATM Group

One goal of this mission was to collect coincident data between IceBridge and CryoSat-2 for doing intercomparisons between the various altimeter data sets used in cryospheric research. We were a bit ahead of schedule however, so we looped back over portions of our flight line to ensure that we were still collecting data when the satellite crossed over. Finally, as the sun hung began to sink low on the horizon, hundreds of miles above us CryoSat-2 passed silently overhead covering hours of our flight track in a matter of minutes. We continued flying northward a little while longer towards the edge of the ice pack where the ice became less consolidated and more broken up. Our mission finished, we climbed high into the sky and sped back to our temporary home in Punta Arenas.

Image is courtesy of NASA/Jim Yungel

It’s difficult for me to tell much about the ice cover properties from the limited perspective of my human eyes, but memories of the journey will remain with me for a long time to come. An enduring and detailed record has also been written into the hard drives of the IceBridge instrument archives. I and other scientists are eagerly anticipating doing a thorough analysis of the data collected. Hopefully it will tell us more about what we saw today and how this record can be used to enhance our understanding of the climate system.

A Sea Ice Mission Over the Weddell Sea

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From: Seelye Martin, University of Washington

The Weddell Sea mission is a pair of lines repeated from last year that extend across the sea ice from the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula to south of Cape Norvegia, and back again (see above). The flight path crosses the tip of the Peninsula, then proceeds on a long straight line to the eastern Weddell Coast, transits down the coast about 200 nautical miles, then transits back, where the sea ice coverage is at 1,500 feet. The primary instruments will be the ATM to measure sea ice freeboard and the snow depth radar for snow depth on the sea ice.

The past five days have been very difficult, in that the weather has been poor, with low clouds or storms over all of our sites. This was stressful for all of us, in that on the previous evening, we would choose a potential target, then get up at 5:00 am local, transit to the airport at 6:30, get to the airport at 7, stare at maps and imagery until 7:30, then consult with the weather office until 8 am. At this point, we would discover the weather was so marginal that we were forced to cancel. But today our forecasts showed a high pressure system over the Weddell Sea, the Chileans said go, so we flew the mission. This is the first in a series of 14 flight plans.

In this mission, our first problem involves the production of accurate weather forecasts. To produce these, we use the following sources: First, the Antarctic Mesoscale Prediction System, which at 00 and 12 UTC, produces a five day forecast at 3-hour increments. This forecast in particular shows the location and height of the cloud layers. Second, the satellite imagery acquired by the NASA Rapidfire system, pressure field forecasts from the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF) and the expertise of Chilean Airport Meteorologists. So what’s the weather like down here? Imagine a circular icecap centered at the South Pole. Under these conditions, there would be a high pressure system over the ice cap, and a series of lows moving around the cap. Now add the Antarctic Peninsula to the icecap, a 4,000-meter-high barrier extending 700 nautical miles toward South America. The lows still rotate around the continent, but now the peninsula causes the lows to stall in the Bellingshausen Sea. This creates the bad weather for the critical region around Pine Island Bay. For the Weddell, this is the first open day since we arrived, and we hope that the mission is free of low clouds.

A second problem involves the avoidance of bird and seal colonies. Low overflights stress the birds and seals; so we need to stay 4,000 feet away from the colonies in the vertical, or 1 nautical mile in the horizontal. We are making every effort to avoid the colonies, many of which are concentrated along our path in the northern peninsula.

A third problem involves the snow depth radar. This is an innovative radar from the University of Kansas, that measures snow depth on sea ice. Last year, the transmit and receive antennas were located adjacent to one another in a fairing attached to the belly of the plane. This year, to improve performance, the receiving antennas were relocated to compartments in the wing roots, one each on each side. The relocation of these antennas involved having a contractor replace the aircraft aluminum panels with a radar transparent material, which is used instead of the aluminum panels, with the antennas mounted behind. The radar is now more sensitive, but it has yet to be tested over sea ice, something we had hoped to do on an earlier flight, so we need to allow for roughly half an hour to take data at low elevations, then analyze it, to make sure that the instrument is working properly before taking data along the line. Having this instrument work will improve the accuracy of the snow depth retrieval. So, weather, penguins, snow radar, all must all be considered for a successful flight.

Here is the timeline of the mission:

0905: Take-off to 33,000 ft, airspeed 450 kts.

1030: We are approaching the peninsula, still at high altitude. Islands are just coming into view, poking up above the clouds, this would be Greenwich Island, straight ahead. Cloud deck is below us, clouds should clear as we cross the peninsula.

1026: Approaching peninsula, high clouds

1051: Passing over the peninsula at 34,000 ft, turbulence shakes plane.

1110: Cleared peninsula, avoided penguin colonies, sea ice is visible straight ahead, dropping our altitude to 1,500 ft. Someone just handed me a paper towel, they are concerned about possible precipitation inside the plane as we descend.

1112: Descending to 1500’ for snow radar calibration.

1113: At 1,500’, approaching sea ice under clouds, snow radar is running

1115: Transiting sea ice edge. small broken floes, sunlight on ice. Surface temp from infrared radiometer is about -2 C. It is warm and sunny out here.

1146: Surface temp as low as -6C, we have good snow. Ice consists of large floes surrounded by open water, occasional nilas (thin ice). Small icebergs visible in distance. This is wonderful flying, horizon visible in all directions, blue sky above. Very different than last year. Gives some faith to the forecast.

1201: Suddenly flying above dense low clouds without breaks.

1208: Dropped to 1,000 ft, still in clouds, some turbulence. I sure hope we fly out of this.

1217: Intermittent cloudiness, now appears to be sharpening up. Pilots do not want to go below 1,000 ft. Now it is really clear again, a whole lot better.

1219: Looks really clear again, good horizon, occasional puffs of clouds, blue sky overhead.

1225: Winds up to 25 kts at right angles to the plane, Langmuir streaks in water. Winds should blow the clouds out of here. Ben reports that the snow radar is working.

1230: Return to 1,500 ft.

1311: Cross-track wind up to 31 kts.

1318: Clouds at horizon, 2 hours to the coast. Ice and blue sky still present.

1350: We are about an hour out from the eastern Weddell coast.

1400: Back into low clouds, some chop, wispy ground fog is back, surface still visible at times, still at 1,500 ft.

1413: Clear again at surface, but overcast overhead. 26 minutes to end of line. Losing the horizon. Turbulence, socked in again, no, I can still see the surface. These cloudy interludes are pretty intermittent. Can sort of see the horizon. Ben reports from early processing of snow radar, 75 cm of snow depth near the peninsula.

1435: Approaching the coast for our turn south. Then about 200 nm on the southern leg, then head back to the peninsula.

1440: Begin turn to the southwest. This is about as close as we will get to the eastern Weddell coast, the British station Halley Bay is off here somewhere, looks like we are on the new trajectory. We are in a heavy haze, but surface is still visible. Good surface visibility.

1530: Just finished traverse along the Brunt ice shelf, very beautiful as we came out from under a cloud deck.

1552: On return track to the tip of the peninsula, good surface visibility but hazy.

1700: Perfect weather on the return line, just heard from pilots that they can finish the line at 1,500 ft. Our low altitude airspeed is 250 knots.

1820: Approaching the peninsula at low altitude, weather remains excellent, beautiful sunset across the Peninsula.

1840: 15 minutes out from waypoint marking the end of the line. We can just about make out the Antarctic Peninsula. Ice is thicker adjacent to the peninsula, this is where the second year ice occurs in the Weddell Sea. The tabular icebergs we are seeing out here probably calf off the Ronne/Filchner Ice Shelves.

1850: Reached waypoint, starting to climb for home, at a sufficient altitude to avoid the penguin colonies.

1900: Cleared the peninsula, at 34,000 ft, headed for home, but encountered 60 kt headwinds.

2120: Landed at Punta Arenas, flight duration was 12.4 hrs.

Back from Greenland, No Rest for the Weary

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NASA and university partners returned from Greenland on May 28, concluding Operation IceBridge’s 2010 field campaign to survey Arctic ice sheets, glaciers and sea ice.

Over the span of almost 10 weeks, crew flew 28 science flights between the DC-8 and P-3 aircraft. Flight paths covered a total of 62,842 nautical miles, equivalent to about 2.5 trips around Earth at its equator. Credit: NASA

IceBridge — the largest airborne survey ever flown of Earth’s polar ice — has now completed two successive Arctic campaigns, adding a multitude of new information to the record from previous surveys.

Continue to follow the IceBridge blog and twitter feed to read updates as science results emerge. Also hear from scientists already planning the return to Antarctica this fall.

IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger, recently back from the field, offered words of thanks to those who helped made the 2010 Arctic campaign a success.

“A project of this size with two aircraft and multiple deployment sites and a fairly complex instrument payload is only possible with the support of many people. I would like to thank everyone from NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility, NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility and NASA’s Earth Science Project Office, who all provided excellent support for Operation IceBridge. We also had excellent support from the NASA instrument teams, the science teams from the universities, and many of our science colleagues, both, from the teams in the field and from people back home in the labs. IceBridge also would like to thank the many people in Kangerlussuag and at Thule Air Base in Greenland who provided excellent support while we were there. We could not have accomplished our goals without their terrific help.”

Michael Studinger (right) readies for a science flight from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, during the Arctic 2010 IceBridge field campaign. Credit: NASA/Jim Yungel

Seeing Eastern Greenland for the First Time

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From: Jason Reimuller, aerospace engineering student, University of Colorado, Boulder

My involvement with Operation IceBridge comes from a desire to better understand the polar climate and the climatic changes that are evident there. I have been working with NASA through the last five years as a system engineer for the Constellation project, while working to complete my doctoral dissertation in Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I have also been recently involved with airborne remote sensing and LiDAR systems by completing a three year, NASA-funded research campaign that involved flying a small Mooney M20K aircraft to the Northwest Territories, Canada to better understand noctilucent clouds through synchronized observations with NASA’s Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) satellite.

This has been my first campaign with the project, participating in sorties based out of Kangerlussuaq, Greenland throughout the first two weeks of May 2010. To me, the project is a unique synthesis of personal interests — from polar climate observation and analysis, aircraft operations, remote sensing and instrument design, and flight research campaign planning. My role this year has been principally as a student with the intent to integrate the data that we collect with satellite and ground station data to better characterize glacial evolution, though I hope to become much more involved with the operations of future campaigns.

Seeing Eastern Greenland for the first time through the P-3’s windows, as its four engines lifting the aircraft easily over the sharp mountainous ridgelines and its strong airframe holding up to the constant moderate turbulence of the coastal winds being channeled through the fjords, was spectacular. I really got a strong sense of contrast between experiencing the stark minimalism of the ice cap and experiencing the aggressive terrain of the eastern fjordlands. The long flight trajectories we conducted there gave me a sense of the incredible diversity of the terrain and the low altitude of the flight plans gave me a connection to the environment not available at higher altitudes, even down to viewing the tracks of polar bears!

I have been very grateful to all the team members that have spent time with me to explain in detail the systems that they are responsible for, specifically the LiDAR systems, the photogrammetric systems, and the RADAR systems. Also, NASA pilot Shane Dover clearly explained to me the systems unique to the P-3 from a pilot perspective, which was of keen interest even though I may never log an hour in a P-3. In particular interest to me was the way John Sonntag was able to modulate complex flight plans onto ILS frequencies, providing the pilot a very logical, precise display to aid in navigating through both the numerous winding glaciers and the long swaths of satellite groundtrack. This has truly been an amazing personal experience, but upon hearing the excitement that many of the world’s top glaciologists have voiced about Operation IceBridge during my time in Kangerlussuaq, I’ve been proud to be a part of the team.

Ice Calves from Russell Glacier

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From: Kathryn Hansen, NASA’s Earth Science News Team/Cryosphere Outreach Specialist


On May 14, 2010, scientists working from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, with NASA’s IceBridge mission observed ice calving from nearby Russell Glacier. Credit: Eric Renaud/Sander Geophysics Ltd.

IceBridge scientists spend many days in flight surveying the snow and ice from above. On research “down days,” some scientists use their day off to take in the sights. On Friday, May 14, a group of scientists with Columbia University’s gravimeter instrument — which measures the shape of seawater-filled cavities at the edge of some major fast-moving major glacier — made the trek out to Russell Glacier. In the right place at the right time, the group witnessed a calving event that sent ice cascading down the glacier’s front.

“I took burst speed photos with my Canon 40D and just kept my finger on the trigger until everything stopped moving,” said Eric Renaud, an electronic technician with Sander Geophysics Ltd. “We were lucky to witness it.”

Read more about the group’s trek in a blog post by Columbia University’s Indrani Das, and watch a time-lapse video of the calving event composed by Renaud.

An Inland Connection?

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From: Kathryn Hansen, NASA’s Earth Science News Team/Cryosphere Outreach Specialist

Scientists have long been tracking Greenland’s outlet glaciers, yet aspects of glacier dynamics remain a mystery. One school of thought was that glaciers react to local forces, such as the shape of the terrain below. Then, researchers noticed that glaciers in different regions were all thinning together, implying a connection beyond local influences. Scientists have posed theories about what that connection might be, but the jury is still out.

Recently, the landscape in southeast Greenland has started to change. Helheim Glacer, which was thinning at 20-40 meters per year, slowed dramatically to just 3 meters per year while thinning of the nearby Kangerdlugsuaq also slowed. Further south, two neighboring glaciers showed the opposite trend and started thickening by as much as 14 meters per year. Neighboring glaciers behaving in similar ways implies a connection, but what exactly?

The IceBridge flight on May 12 will help scientists learn how changes to outlet glaciers affect the ice sheet inland. Instruments on the P-3 surveyed in detail three southeast glaciers: Fridtjof-Nansen, Mogens North and Mogens South. Next they flew four long lines mapping changes near the ocean and up to 60 kilometers inland, capturing the extent, if any, at which thinning near coast reflects on changes to the ice inland. It’s an important connection to make; while the loss of outlet glaciers alone would not contribute much to sea level rise, loss of the ice sheet could have a dramatic impact.

IceBridge crew and researchers board the P-3 on May 12 for a flight to study glaciers and the ice sheet in southeast Greenland. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen


The P-3 flew over areas of sea ice wile mapping glaciers and the flight line closets to the coast. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

Mountainous terrain along Greenland’s southeast coast led to short-lived periods of turbulence and spectacular scenery. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

Eyes for Ice: In the Field with Indrani Das

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From: Kathryn Hansen, NASA’s Earth Science News Team/Cryosphere Outreach Specialist

KANGERLUSSUAQ – Kangerlussuaq International Science Support is a red, boxy building that doubles as a laboratory and a hotel for polar researchers. Upon my arrival it was quiet, nearly empty. By the end of the week, however, an influx of scientists staging field expeditions quickly filled the kitchen and halls.

Space is limited, so I share a room with Indrani Das, an ice scientist from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory — the only other woman with the IceBridge team here in Kangerlussuaq. She works with the Gravimeter instrument, which measures the shape of seawater-filled cavities at the edge of some major fast-moving major glaciers.

Das, looking out the P-3’s window on the flight to Greenland’s Helheim and Kangerdlussuaq glaciers, has expertise that reveals a world hidden from my untrained eyes — textures in the ice that disclose, generally, how a glacier is moving.

Das wrote about her experience on the flight May 8, sprinkling her narrative with some glacial facts. Read her post here, on the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory’s IceBridge blog.

The Big Three

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From: Kathryn Hansen, NASA’s Earth Science News Team/Cryosphere Outreach Specialist

KANGERLUSSUAQ — The evening before the second science flight, IceBridge scientists Michael Studinger and John Sonntag visited Kangerlussuaq’s weather office — a small building adjacent to the town’s grocery store. Weather can make or break a mission, as clouds interfere with instruments’ ability to map the ice.

This time there was another factor to contend with. Ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano had made its way over the southeast side of Greenland. Comparing the proposed flight path with the position of ash, IceBridge crew decided the flight was a “go.”

Mission managers selected the Helheim-Kangerd flight plan, which called for mapping two of three glaciers deemed “the big three.” (The third is Jacobshavn, to be surveyed in a separate mission).

Helheim and Kangerdlugssuaq glaciers are quickly accelerating, speeding up ice loss to the ocean. Steep beds and the influence of saltwater working its way under the glaciers are thought to be playing a role. Annual data collected during IceBridge will help scientists maintain a record of the ice loss and learn more about the factors driving the change.

After mapping Kangerdlugssuaq, the P-3 passed over a ground team on an expedition collecting ice cores. The overflight was intentional — multiple sources of data over a single location can prove useful for calibrating data and for research. Similarly, IceBridge flights frequently reexamine tracks previously observed by the ICESat satellite. The ice coring crew was caught on camera (below) by the Digital Mapping System — a digital camera mounted in the underbelly of the P-3.

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