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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IceBridge Science Team Meets at UC Irvine

By George Hale, IceBridge Science Outreach Coordinator, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Twice a year the IceBridge science team meets to present their latest research, discuss the mission’s scientific aims and plan for the next campaign. On June 17 and 18 the science team met on the campus of the University of California Irvine, where researchers talked about IceBridge’s accomplishments and cooperative work with various agencies, discussed future directions for the mission and looked over proposed flight lines for the Antarctic campaign coming up this fall.


Participants of the IceBridge Science Team Meeting pose for a group photo on the campus of UC Irvine. Credit: UC Irvine / Bernd Scheuchl

Scientists in one of the sessions held during the IceBridge Science Team Meeting. Credit: UC Irvine / Bernd Scheuchl
Researchers look over proposed flight lines for the upcoming Antarctic campaign. Credit: UC Irvine / Bernd Scheuchl

Rock, Ice and Fire: Volcanoes of Greenland's Past

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

During one of IceBridge’s online educational chats we had an interesting question from a fifth grade class in Hanover, N.H. “Are you flying near any volcanoes?” Nearby Iceland is famed for its geothermal activity, with hot springs and geysers, and volcanoes like the one that disrupted European air travel for weeks in 2010 (and caused minor concern for IceBridge mission planners at the same time) by spewing a large cloud of ash into the air.

Satellite image of the ash plume from Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano on Apr. 17, 2010.

Satellite image of the ash plume from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano on Apr. 17, 2010. Credit: NASA / MODIS Rapid Response Team

But unlike Antarctica, which has dozens of active and extinct volcanoes, Greenland is not known for having volcanic activity. Getting a handle on Greenland’s geology is hampered by the fact that the majority of the island is covered with hundreds or thousands of meters of ice. But geologists in the field who have studied the exposed rock along the coasts and on mountains above the ice found evidence of volcanoes in Greenland’s past.

About half of Greenland’s exposed surface is made up of rock ranging between 1.5 billion and just over 3 billion years old, making them some of the oldest on Earth. This rock is part of a large formation that spans from Greenland, through the Canadian Shield down to the Hudson Bay. The majority of Greenland’s bedrock is thought to be made up of this ancient rock, with portions of it bent and folded by motion of Earth’s tectonic plates much like how the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States and the Rockies out west were formed.

Flight path for Apr. 11 survey of Greenland's Geikie Peninsula

Flight path for Apr. 11 survey of Greenland’s Geikie Peninsula. Credit: NASA

Evidence of past volcanic activity can be seen in sediments carried by Greenland’s glaciers and in one of the most visually striking geologic features in Greenland, the Geikie Peninsula on Greenland’s east coast. And it turns out that this region’s characteristic geology has something in common with present-day volcanic activity in Iceland. Both come from molten rock welling up through a ridge in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, a boundary where the North American and Eurasian plates are moving apart.

About 60 million years ago, lava from the mid-ocean ridge flooded out over the landscape, creating a rock formation known as a flood basalt. Repeated floods of lava over the years are what give Geikie’s jagged peaks their distinctive layer cake appearance. Similar geologic structures can be seen in other parts of the world, like the Columbia River Basalt Group in the western United States.

A glacier between mountains on Greenland's Geikie Peninsula. The mountains on the Geikie Peninsula in Greenland consist mostly of flood basalts formed during the opening of the North Atlantic Ocean millions of years ago.

A glacier between mountains on Greenland’s Geikie Peninsula. The mountains on the Geikie Peninsula in Greenland consist mostly of flood basalts formed during the opening of the North Atlantic Ocean millions of years ago. Credit: NASA / Michael Studinger

The answer for those students was no, we weren’t flying near any volcanoes. But we did get to relate our previous experience with the Iceland volcano (and learn that their teacher had a flight delayed because of the same event), and tell them about volcanoes in Greenland’s past.

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.

Crossing the Basin: IceBridge in Alaska

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

Why does IceBridge fly all the way to Alaska when the rest of the campaign is in Greenland? It’s an understandable question considering how far away these two locations are. But when you consider the economic importance of the regions north of Alaska and how dynamic and varying sea ice in the Arctic is, the picture becomes clearer. Much like last year, the IceBridge team made the 8 hour transit flight from Thule to Fairbanks early in the campaign.

Flight path from Thule to Fairbanks.
Flight path taken from Thule, Greenland, to Fairbanks, Alaska on Mar. 21, 2013. This route and the more southerly return leg have been flown in every IceBridge Arctic campaign. The flightplan was renamed this year as a tribute to sea ice scientist Seymour Laxon. Credit: NASA

Ice on the Move

At first glance it might be easy to assume that Arctic sea ice is uniform, but the region’s geography, ocean and wind currents and the ever-changing nature of ice itself mean that conditions can vary significantly across the Arctic Basin. “There are lots of different thickness gradients across the basin,” said Jackie Richter-Menge, sea ice scientist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and co-lead of the IceBridge science team.

Ocean currents like the Beaufort Gyre continuously spin in the Arctic Ocean, driving ice cover along the coast of North America toward Greenland where it is compressed into thicker multi-year ice. The presence of multi-year ice is one of the biggest differences between the ice cover off the coast of Greenland and in the region of the Arctic Basin north of Alaska, which is recently dominated by ice that forms in the winter and disappears in the summer.

DMS mosaic of ice in the Beaufort Sea.
Digital Mapping System (DMS) image mosaic of ice in the Beaufort Sea. The lighter colored portion at the bottom right is thick sea ice, the darker blue-gray areas are thinner ice and the dark segment in the middle is open water. Credit: NASA / DMS

This seasonal ice cover is becoming more prevalent in areas north of Alaska as the thicker multi-year ice gradually melts. On the Mar. 22 IceBridge flight Richter-Menge saw firsthand how things have changed since she flew over the region earlier in her career in the 1980s. “It was notable how deep we went in the basin without seeing multi-year ice,” Richter-Menge said. IceBridge didn’t see multi-year ice until they were about 1000 kilometers from shore. In the early 1980s it could be found between 150 and 200 kilometers out.

Getting Better Data

These sorts of changes, along with environmental and economic concerns, contributed to the science communities increased desire for data on sea ice this part of the Arctic Basin. IceBridge had conducted transits of the entire basin from Thule to Fairbanks in previous campaigns, but starting in 2012, the mission started doing a temporary deployment in Fairbanks to get more data on areas north of Alaska.

IceBridge’s increased coverage is adding to the body of knowledge on ice in this region adding a new level of detail. “It gives us a more complete view of what’s going on in the basin,” said Richter-Menge. The data collected on these flights give more geographic coverage to IceBridge’s sea ice data products, especially the quick look product that debuted during last year’s Arctic campaign. This dataset came about in response to a need for near real-time sea ice conditions for use in seasonal sea ice forecasts.

Graph of Arctic sea ice volume from the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS)
Graph of Arctic sea ice volume from the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS). Credit: Polar Science Center / University of Washington

Along with data on sea ice freeboard, the amount of ice floating above the ocean’s surface, many in the scientific community have taken an interest in IceBridge’s snow depth measurements. Snow depth gives a way to measure changes in precipitation rate and differences in accumulation affect how much snow is available for melt ponds. As conditions warm in the summer, snow melts and accumulates in ponds. These ponds are darker than the surrounding snow, trapping more of the sun’s heat and further accelerating melting.

Richter-Menge (left) and the IceBridge team before a flight over the Beaufort Sea on Mar. 22, 2013.
Jackie Richter-Menge (left) and the IceBridge team before a flight over the Beaufort Sea on Mar. 22, 2013. Credit: NASA / Jim Yungel

Learning and Teaching

As a guest on the flights out of Fairbanks Richter-Menge got a chance to see firsthand how IceBridge collects sea ice data. Being able to witness this complicated and involved process helps give a better-rounded picture of the mission, Richter-Menge said. In addition to the data-collection that takes up each flight, Richter-Menge got to see the work it takes to choose which mission to fly each morning. “It was impressive to watch the whole decision-making process for choosing flight lines,” said Richter-Menge.

And as is often the case, the flow of information goes both ways. Richter-Menge and fellow sea ice scientist Sinead Farrell spent plenty of time on their flights sitting at a window aboard the P-3 and explaining what everyone was seeing. “We are learning a lot about sea ice with them here,” said Christy Hansen, IceBridge’s project manager.

NASA Operation IceBridge: Notes from the Field (Arctic 2013)

By Sinead Farrell, Sea Ice Scientist, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / University of Maryland

Editor’s note: This entry was originally posted on the Scientist’s Soapbox, a blog published by the Earth Science System Interdisciplinary Center at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md. 


The NASA Operation IceBridge mission began the Arctic 2013 research campaign on Monday 20th March. The mission will survey the Greenland Ice Sheet and sea ice pack of the Arctic Ocean. The NASA IceBridge mission is now in its fifth year and continues to measure Arctic sea ice thickness and snow depth. These data continue the time series of ice thickness measurements begun with NASA’s ICESat in 2003, and will provide a link to the NASA ICESat-2 mission, due for launch in mid-2016.

Surveys are conducted using a specially-equipped P-3B research aircraft (see photo below) that flies above the ice carrying a number of science instruments including radar and laser altimeters, and high-resolution cameras. This year the first flight took place from Thule, Greenland over Arctic sea ice north of the Lincoln Sea, on Wednesday 20th March. IceBridge flew beneath the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite, that carries a special radar altimeter known as SIRAL. The mission was designed to fly a gridded-survey beneath the satellite to help validate CryoSat’s measurements over sea ice. The aircraft then transited from Thule across the Arctic Ocean to Alaska on Thursday 21st March. Over the coming days IceBridge will attempt a number of sea ice flights over the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas from a base at Fairbanks International Airport, Alaska. ESSIC’s Sinead Farrell hopes to participate in the first Alaska mission on Friday 22nd March, pending good weather. Dr. Farrell is a sea ice scientist and member of the NASA IceBridge science team.

View of a sea ice lead from the NASA P-3B.
View of a sea ice lead from the NASA P-3B. Credit: NASA / Christy Hansen

Daily Blog Posts:

Tuesday 19th March: Arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska on Tuesday to slightly warmer spring temperatures than I had expected. After organizing a rental car, figuring out how to use the engine heating block and the all-wheel drive, I headed for the hotel to unpack and (re)familiarize myself with the locale. The last time I enjoyed an extended visit to Fairbanks was exactly ten years ago, while I was conducting my graduate studies at University College London. Back then I also participated in a NASA airborne campaign over the Chukchi, Beaufort and Bering Seas aimed at validating the NASA AMSR-E radiometer. Things have not changed much in Fairbanks over the years!

Wednesday 20th March: The first in a series of IceBridge science flights was successfully completed on Wednesday. Although the mission was conducted far away over Arctic sea ice northwest of Greenland it was nonetheless a very exciting mission to follow. I was involved in designing a set of gridded flight-lines over the ice such that our airborne survey would provide temporally and spatially coincident measurements with CryoSat-2, while it passed high over-head. This is a technically challenging flight to conduct but things worked out well. The sea ice appeared more dynamic than we had expected, but the number of cracks in the ice, known as “leads”, will actually help in the data analysis aimed at inferring sea ice thickness. While waiting for the IceBridge mission to transit from Greenland to Alaska, I will spend time visiting the International Arctic Research Center (IARC), at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks (UAF). On Wednesday I had the opportunity to meet with some of my colleagues at IARC to discuss on-going and future projects to better understand the diminishing Arctic sea ice pack. I was also able to attend a lecture by Dr. Ron Kwok of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the topic of “Recent Changes in the Arctic Sea Ice Cover: A remote sensing perspective”. Fortuitously there are many national and international sea ice scientists visiting UAF right now to participate in meetings and workshops. Some are even en route to conduct field-work on the sea ice near Barrow, Alaska. Although it’s very cold (-19 degrees Celsius this morning!) and snowing, this is a great time of the year to be in Fairbanks!

Thursday 21st March: Thursday began with the exciting news that the NASA P-3 was en route to Fairbanks. Today’s mission from Greenland to Alaska was flown along what is called the “Laxon Line”. The flight is named in honor of University College London Professor Seymour Laxon. Seymour, my graduate advisor, died tragically 3 months ago. Seymour was a pioneer in the use of satellite altimeters to study sea ice and was the lead sea ice scientist on the CryoSat-2 mission. Today we measured ice thickness and snow depth along a flight line that crosses most of the Arctic Ocean. Thanks to a good tail-wind the P-3 landed one hour early in Fairbanks, right around lunch time. I was really lucky to watch the plane land with my colleagues Jackie Richter-Menge from the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) and Pam Posey from the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). Once through customs we met our colleagues off the plane and welcomed them to snowy Alaska!

Friday 22nd March: On Friday we hope to conduct a third sea ice mission over the Arctic, weather permitting. We always need good weather to fly our surveys since clouds can potentially interrupt the measurements we make from the aircraft. We’re particularly interested to see what is happening to the sea ice in the Southern Beaufort Sea this year after the ice pack suffered a wide-spread “break out” event in mid-February. This event caused the ice pack to fragment into smaller floes and become more dynamic. Although these break-out events are not unusual in this region, they do not normally happen in February, the dead of winter. We will provide more updates as the day progresses.

The NASA P-3B on the ramp at Fairbanks, Alaska.
The NASA P-3B on the ramp at Fairbanks, Alaska. Credit: NASA / Jim Yungel

NASA Goddard Hosts IceBridge Science Team Meeting

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

Large scientific missions like IceBridge take continual planning to keep running. In addition to regular telephone and email collaboration, IceBridge researchers meet in person twice a year to discuss the mission’s science aims, results and plans for future campaigns. The first of 2013’s IceBridge science team meetings and the annual meeting of the Program for Arctic Regional Climate Assessment (PARCA) took place at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., Jan. 29–31.

The IceBridge science team is a group of polar scientists from a variety of institutions and serves multiple functions. The largest of these functions is guiding the mission toward meeting its science requirements.”The team provides general guidance and advice,” said IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger. “They look at how far down the road we are to meeting our level one science requirements.”

The science team meeting was joined by the annual meeting of PARCA, a NASA initiated program started in 1995 to understand changes to the Greenland Ice Sheet. This was to be accomplished through periodic airborne surveys, satellite remote sensing and surface-based research. Starting in 2009, PARCA’s annual meeting has been scheduled to coincide with IceBridge’s science team meeting. “Originally PARCA was a Greenland field campaign planning meeting,” said NASA scientist Charles Webb. “Having the meetings together logically makes sense.”

NASA scientist Bryan Blair gives a presentation on the future of the Land Vegetation and Ice Sensor (LVIS)
NASA scientist Bryan Blair gives a presentation on the future of the Land Vegetation and Ice Sensor (LVIS). Credit: NASA / Jefferson Beck

Presentation topics at both meetings ranged from the use of IceBridge data in seasonal sea ice forecasts to the use of radar to image layers in ice sheets to new algorithms for mapping bedrock beneath the ice.Other presentations included status updates for instruments like the Airborne Topographic Mapper (ATM) and Land, Vegetation and Ice Sensor (LVIS) and a look ahead at NASA’s next-generation polar monitoring satellite, ICESat-2.

The PARCA meeting started on Jan. 29 with sessions on newresearch and novel ways to work with IceBridge and other cryospheric data. Participantsclosed out a busy day with a remembrance of cryospheric scientist SeymourLaxon, whose unexpected death earlier in the month shocked the polar sciencecommunity, and a poster session and dinner at Goddard’s recreation center.

PARCA sessions finished up on the morning of Jan. 30, covering integrating IceBridge data, radar mapping of ice sheets and next steps in ice sheet physics. After lunch, the IceBridge science team meeting started, with breakout sessions by the sea ice and land ice science teams. In these sessions,science team members discussed research and plans for the upcoming IceBridge Arctic campaign and beyond, including collaborations with various other groups outside of NASA. Later in the day, ATM senior scientist John Sonntag presented planned flight lines for the 2013 Arctic campaign and invited comments on suggestions for ways the lines can better meet IceBridge’s science goals.

ATM senior scientist John Sonntag shows proposed flight plans for 2013 Arctic campaign.
ATM senior scientist John Sonntag shows proposed flight plans for 2013 Arctic campaign. Credit: NASA / Jefferson Beck

The last day of the IceBridge science team meeting saw more sessions on IceBridge science, data and future plans. Included in the sesessions were talks about new instruments like a version of LVIS soon to be tested on NASA’s Global Hawk, status updates on ICESat-2 and a final discussion of proposed flight lines for the IceBridge Arctic campaign, where flight plans were assigned priorities and finalized. This year, IceBridge science team member Robin Bell from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University came up with a new and hands-on way to improve this process. Bell set up three tables representing high, medium and low priorities, onto which printed copies of flight plans were sorted. “This gave us a more visual and intuitive feel for how the flight lines fit together,” said Sonntag. “It was a good way to get flight priorities straightened out.”

This sort of discussion, where scientists hash out details on research goals, priorities and methodologies is at the heart of not only IceBridge, but scientific work in general. “The research landscape is constantly evolving, so you have to rethink how you approach problems and organize the community once in a while,” said Studinger. “You need constant evaluation and discussion of ideas and results.”

Science team members sort through printed copies of proposed flight lines.
Science team members sort through printed copies of proposed flight lines. Credit: NASA / Jefferson Beck

Operation IceBridge Featured in EOS

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

The new quick look sea ice data product released by NASA’s Operation IceBridge was the subject of a cover story in the Jan. 22 issue of the American Geophysical Union publication EOS. The article discusses the sea ice data product created by IceBridge scientists during the 2012 Arctic campaign last April and how these datasets provide new ways for researchers to measure Arctic sea ice.

Maps of survey of Arctic sea ice

Map showing quick look sea ice data from Arctic 2012 campaign

EOS article:

For more about IceBridge’s quick-look sea ice product and its use in seasonal forecasts, visit: