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Two Perfect Days for IceBridge
by Staff Writers
Greenbelt MD (SPX) Oct 31, 2012

Ellsworth Mountains in Antarctica seen from NASA's DC-8. Credit: NASA/Michael Studinger. For a larger version of this image please go here.

After two no-fly days for aircraft maintenance and weather, IceBridge surveyed the Ronne Ice Shelf grounding line and took high-altitude measurements of four glaciers in West Antarctica.

These missions gathered critical ice elevation and thickness data and gave those on the DC-8 spectacular views such as the Ellsworth Mountains-home of Antarctica's highest point, Vinson Massif (16,067 feet)-and the rift in the Pine Island Glacier that was discovered during last year's Antarctic campaign.

Early on the morning of Oct. 22, the IceBridge team met with hopes of clear weather over the Weddell Sea for a sea ice survey that would have coordinated with an overhead pass by CryoSat-2, the European Space Agency's ice monitoring satellite.

With forecast models showing clouds in the Weddell Sea, IceBridge took off for a grounding line survey of the Ronne Ice Shelf, an area that promised clearer conditions. This mission extended a previous grounding line survey by following the grounding line around much of the western portion of the Ronne Ice Shelf boundary.

"The conditions in the area were perfect," said IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger. IceBridge researchers completed all planned survey lines and collected low-altitude data on the grounding line in the ice streams feeding into the Ronne Ice Shelf.

The mission was designed to gather radar ice thickness information needed to calculate flux, or the amount of ice flowing through channels into the sea, in the area's ice streams.

The following day, Oct. 23, the IceBridge team met at the airport to prepare for another successful mission. Although forecasts were predicting clear skies in the western part of Antarctica, the outlook in Punta Arenas was more menacing, calling for storms and a possibility of hail.

The DC-8 avoided this by flying a newly designed high-altitude survey of the Pine Island, Thwaites, Smith and Kohler glaciers in West Antarctica. This mission built on the region's ice elevation data by following historic ICESat tracks and lines previously measured with IceBridge's Land, Vegetation and Ice Sensor.

Although there were clouds below during the transit, the DC-8 ran into clear skies almost exactly as it reached the start of its survey line. "It was another perfect day for IceBridge," said Studinger. "Getting 35,000 feet of clear atmosphere doesn't happen every day."

There was a bonus on this mission as well. While flying the grid on the Pine Island Glacier, the IceBridge DC-8 flew over the growing rift in the ice that was discovered during last year's Antarctic campaign.

Both the Digital Mapping System and Airborne Topographic Mapper were able to collect data on the crack, which gathered attention from polar scientists around the world and has grown significantly over the past year.

As on previous flights, members of the IceBridge team used the DC-8's online chat system to answer questions from teachers and students all over the United States. On a future flight, IceBridge plans to host two teachers from the Punta Arenas area and conduct a live Tweeting event during a flight.


Related Links
IceBridge at NASA
Beyond the Ice Age

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