October 1, 2009

NASA to resume ‘Operation Ice Bridge’

The U.S. space agency says it is ready to start a study of the Earth's southern ice-covered regions to identify changes in sea ice, ice sheets and glaciers.

On Oct. 12, NASA's Operation Ice Bridge resumes when the space agency's DC-8 -- the largest aircraft in its science fleet -- leaves the Dryden Flight Research Center in California for Punta Arenas, Chile, where it will be based through mid-November.

For six weeks, the Ice Bridge team will traverse the Southern Ocean for up to 17 flights over West Antarctica, the Antarctic Peninsula, and coastal areas where sea ice is prevalent, NASA said.

Operation Ice Bridge is a six-year campaign of annual flights to each of Earth's polar regions. NASA said the first flights in March and April carried researchers over Greenland and the Arctic Ocean. This fall's Antarctic campaign, led by Seelye Martin of the University of Washington, marks the first sustained airborne research effort of its kind over the continent.

A remarkable change is happening on the Earth, truly one of the biggest changes in environmental conditions on Earth since the end of the ice age, said Tom Wagner, NASA's cryosphere program scientist. It's not an easy thing to observe, let alone predict what might happen next. Studies like this one are key.