Cryo Lab at Goddard’s Science Jamboree

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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Live Twitter chat with Operation IceBridge

NASA P-3 flight deck

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to fly over the Arctic while doing scientific research? On April 8, you can follow NASA’s Operation IceBridge and ask questions about how polar researchers work and the science of polar ice as NASA’s P-3B airborne laboratory flies 1500 feet above Greenland’s ice sheet and glaciers.

IceBridge will post live in-flight highlights on Twitter@NASA_ICE from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. EDT on Monday, April 8 (weather delay date April 9). Follow along during the flight and hear from the scientists,engineers and guest high school science teachers on board. We’ll also be taking your questions. Just use the hashtag #askNASA.

Sea ice in the Nares Strait west of Greenland

Teacher and Science Adviser to Experience IceBridge

By Jette Rygaard Poulsen, Math and Physics Teacher, Hasseris Gymnasium, Aalborg, Denmark

Danish science teacher Jette Rygaard Poulsen

Danish science teacher Jette Rygaard Poulsen

Jette Rygaard Poulsen is the science adviser for the Danish Ministry of Education, and in this role she is participating in developing new subjects for the Danish high schools. One of the latest examples is the combination of physics and geography where a special focus on the Arctic areas could be extremely relevant. Poulsen is working on how Operation IceBridge can contribute. Not only with raw data from measurements, but also with general information on the flying laboratory and the equipment usage. This insight can be coupled directly to the mathematical models the Danish students are already using during their education. Poulsen is also the coordinator of Danish teachers participation in Operation IceBridge.

Apart from her advisory work for the Ministry, Poulsen is also teaching physics and math at the general high school Hasseris Gymnasium in Aalborg, Denmark. Poulsen graduated from Copenhagen University as M.Sc in Meteorology, and has since maintained a special interest in the Arctic climate.

Greenland Teacher to Gain Insight on Arctic Ice

By Mette Noort Hansen, Science Teacher, GU Sisimiut, Sisimiut, Greenland

Sisimiut, Greenland, science teacher Mette Noort Hansen

I teach introductory science, arctic technology, geography and biology to high school students in Sisimiut, Greenland, where I moved to from Denmark in July 2012. I have a M.Sc. in biology and geography and am interested in nature and the environment, both professionally as a teacher and personally in the form of hiking, skiing, botanizing or other activities.

I heard about the possibility of joining the IceBridge mission through a science newsletter for high school teachers in Greenland, and from my colleague Sine, who joined the mission in 2012. I hope that the mission will give me and future students an insight in contemporary research regarding the melting of polar ice, and a better understanding of what the research tells us, compared to what the media tells us.

Following IceBridge I will develop a theme for introductory science, regarding glaciers, the research done in IceBridge, and the definition of science. The product is made available for all science teachers in Greenland in June 2013, as part of a larger web-based teaching-platform for Greenlandic high school teachers.

PolarTREC Teacher's Path to IceBridge

By Mark Buesing, Libertyville High School, Libertyville, Ill.

Libertyville High School physics teacher Mark Buesing

Libertyville High School physics teacher Mark Buesing

I teach physics and AP physics at Libertyville High School in Libertyville, IL – about 45 miles northwest of Chicago. My undergrad is in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois and I worked for a number of years at Hughes Aircraft in California and Motorola in Illinois. After a short stint as a professional bicycle racer, I found out I was meant to be a high school physics teacher, and earned a graduate degree in secondary education from Roosevelt University. I’ve been teaching now for almost 20 years.

My route to Operation IceBridge was serendipitous. A former student of mine works for the US Antarctic Program, and while in Antarctica, she met a science teacher participating in the PolarTREC program (Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating). This student sent me an e-mail telling me about the program and encouraged me to apply. That application was selected by Operation IceBridge, which has a very active educational outreach program.

My students asked me what I’ll be doing in Greenland with NASA, and I told them, “You are the next generation of scientists and engineers. Who are the next people NASA will hire to help continue all the research? … You!” So my job is to bring the science Operation IceBridge does back to my class and help motivate students to pursue careers in science and engineering. In the not-too-distant future, if the kids in my class today are working on a project like Operation IceBridge I will have done my job.

IceBridge personnel and Buesing in Fairbanks, Alaska.
From left: Michael Studinger, IceBridge project scientist; Mark Buesing, Libertyville High School physics teacher; and Christy Hansen, IceBridge project manager

Keeping IceBridge Flying

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?”

Meet Our Wildlife Liaison

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

The newest addition to the IceBridge team is our stuffed penguin mascot. He was recently selected as IceBridge’s wildlife liaison, and after training at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, he traveled with IceBridge scientists on the DC-8 to Punta Arenas, Chile. Our stuffed penguin mascot has been very popular with students we have done online chats with during our flights, so we’ve put together an introduction.

The IceBridge mascot aboard the NASA DC-8

The IceBridge mascot aboard the NASA DC-8. Credit: NASA/Michael Studinger

What is your role with Operation IceBridge?

I’m the IceBridge wildlife liaison and mascot. Animals that live in Earth’s polar regions, especially penguins, find it annoying when planes fly over too low. Because of this, IceBridge works hard to avoid areas where penguins live. We work with the National Science Foundation and a group in the United Kingdom called Environmental Research Assessment to carefully plan our flights, and I’m able to give a penguin’s point of view on things. I’m also in charge of keeping people happy during the 10 to 12-hour-long flights over the Antarctic so they do their best work.

How long have you been with NASA and IceBridge?

I started working for NASA only a few weeks before the start of our Antarctic campaign. After being hired I started my training at Goddard, and rode to work with IceBridge’s project manager Christy Hansen. After a few weeks of hard studying I was ready to start flying, which is something penguins almost never get to do.

Where are you from originally?

My family originally comes from South America, not far from Punta Arenas, Chile, where IceBridge flies out of. I live in Ellicot City, Maryland, now, but I hope I can get a chance to see some of my cousins while I’m in Chile. There are some penguins living just a short drive from Punta Arenas.

What led you to join Operation IceBridge?

Three reasons really. First, I want to know more about what’s happening to ice in the Arctic and Antarctic. Changes to the climate in the Antarctic affect how my fellow penguins live: where they eat, where they raise their children and where they migrate every year. By working with IceBridge I can learn more about how things are changing. Second, I think it’s important to avoid disturbing wildlife when doing scientific research and this is something I feel I can help out with. And lastly, because even though penguins are birds, we can’t fly. I couldn’t pass up a chance to fly on NASA aircraft.

The IceBridge penguin mascot using the DC-8's satellite phone headset.

The IceBridge penguin mascot using the DC-8’s satellite phone headset. Credit: NASA / George Hale

What’s it like flying over the Antarctic?

It’s something I’ve dreamed about since the day I hatched. Being able to see so much of the ice from above is really cool. I’ve seen big glaciers, giant sheets of ice that stretch off as far as you can see and tall mountains. Seeing these things from the air when I’m used to seeing everything from on the ground and under water is amazing.

Have you seen any other penguins on the mission?

Some of the people with IceBridge went to see penguins the other day, but I was busy with work, but my new friends took lots of pictures for me. I think I’ll get to go with them soon though. I won’t see any from the plane though as long as I do my job right.

Video Post: Chilean Teacher Shares IceBridge Experience

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

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

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