NASA Kicks Off First Antarctic-Based Operation IceBridge Field Campaign
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
The arrival of NASA scientists and aircraft at McMurdo Station in Antarctica on Saturday marks the beginning of the 2013 Operation IceBridge field campaign in that region, the US space agency has announced.
As part of the mission, daily survey flights will take place through November 26 on a NASA P-3 research aircraft departing from a base of operations at the National Science Foundation (NSF) facility. Researchers traveling on board the P-3 will be collecting data on Antarctic land and sea ice as part of an ongoing, multi-year research project.
Previous missions had been conducted out of Punta Arenas, Chile. However, according to Michael Studinger, an IceBridge project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, “Flying from Antarctica will allow us to survey areas that had been unreachable from Chile. There are many scientifically important areas we can now reach from McMurdo.”
One of those areas is the Siple Coast, which is located on the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. According to Studinger, the ice surface velocity measurements taken from space instruments indicates that some of the ice streams located there are changing.
However, they have been unable to collect laser altimeter measurements of ice surface elevations in this area since NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) reached the end of its lifespan and stopped collecting data four years ago. Operation IceBridge was started that same year, with the goal of monitoring changes to polar ice until ICESat’s successor (ICESat-2) launches in 2016.
“IceBridge also plans to fly over areas of sea ice in and around the Ross Sea where there have been no airborne ice thickness measurements,” the agency said. “The scientists also will survey beneath the Ross Ice Shelf using a gravimeter, an instrument that can detect minute changes in gravitational fields below the aircraft. These small changes help researchers determine the depth and shape of water cavities beneath floating ice.”
The aircraft being utilized in the mission departed from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on November 11, and is carrying laser altimeters, radar equipment, gravitational and magnetic field sensors and other instruments. Furthermore, IceBridge scientists have established ground stations at McMurdo in order to collect global positioning system (GPS) data. The mission has been in the works for more than a year, according to NASA.
In October, NASA’s C-130 research aircraft flew from Wallops to Greenland, where it started conducting survey flights intended to measure changes in the height of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Those flights, which ended on Saturday, marked the first time that a NASA airborne campaign would collect data in that location, the US space agency said in a statement.