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IceBridge Flies Around the Pole
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (SPX) Oct 30, 2014

The mountains of Antarctica's Shackleton Range seen during IceBridge's survey of Recovery Glacier on Oct. 25, 2014. Image courtesy NASA and Jim Yungel. For a larger version of this image please go here.

Operation IceBridge continued its Antarctic research campaigns with flights designed to study changing glacier ice and set a baseline for future satellite missions.

On the morning of Oct. 23, researchers boarded NASA's DC-8 for a 12-hour-long research flight that would take them directly over the National Science Foundation's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

After leaving Punta Arenas, Chile, the IceBridge team crossed the Straits of Magellan and flew across Antarctica toward the South Pole. Once at 88 degrees south latitude, the mission called for the DC-8 to follow the latitude line in an eastward semi-circle around the pole.

The main purpose for this mission is to provide points of reference for NASA's ICESat-2 when in launches in 2017. ICESat-2 and its predecessor, ICESat, travel around the Earth in a north south path that's slightly off of perpendicular from the equator.

This offset, known as orbital inclination, determines highest latitude covered. By flying a circle around 88 degrees south, IceBridge is able to measure one point of every planned ICESat-2 orbit. Knowing elevation figures for every orbit will give researchers a baseline measurement to validate ICESat-2's measurements.

On Oct. 25, the IceBridge team headed to the airport to prepare for the day while mission planners checked the forecast. The previous day's conditions were unsuitable in all target areas, but the weather looked good over Recovery Glacier, east of the Weddell Sea.

Recovery Glacier is far from Punta Arenas, making this survey designed to collect data on changing surface elevation there one of the longest missions in the books.

After taking off, the DC-8 flew for four hours, crossing the Drake Passage, Antarctic Peninsula and Weddell Sea at high altitude, before descending to the survey area.

This flight followed the same path taken during the Oct. 18, 2012, survey of Recovery Glacier. The team flew back and forth across the ice stream several times and then crossed the glacier's tributary before flying down the centerline of the glacier and returning to Punta Arenas.

The next morning brought clear conditions in the area near the South Pole, so mission planners seized the opportunity to fly the Oct. 23 mission's counterpart, circling the west side of the pole at 88 degrees south.

After takeoff, the DC-8 flew a five-hour-long transit to the survey area. Once there, the team followed the 88 degree latitude line for about 90 minutes before climbing and turning back to Punta Arenas, passing high over the National Science Foundation's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

The Oct. 26 flight completed a dataset that researchers should find useful in the future and brought the total of surveys for the campaign so far to six. In the coming days, IceBridge looks ahead to several more high priority surveys, including a return to West Antarctic regions like the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers.

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IceBridge 2014 Antarctic campaign
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