Oct 12, 2009

NASA Ice Campaign Takes Flight in Antarctica

Early in the 20th century, a succession of adventures and scintsts pioneered the exploration of Antartica. A century later, they're still at it, albeit with a different seat of tools. This fall, a team of modern explorers will fly over Eart's southern ice-covered regions to study changes to its sea ice, ice sheets, and glaciers as part of NASA's Operation Ice Bridge.

Starting next month, NASA will fly its DC-8, a 157-foot-long airborne laboratory that can accomodate many instruments. The fall 2009 campaign is one of few excursions to the remote continent made by the DC-8, the largest aircraft in NASA's airborn science fleet.

The plane is scheduled to leave NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., on October 12 an fly to Punta Arenas, Chile, where the plane, crew and researchers will be based for through mid-November. For six weeks, the Ice Bridge team will traverse the Southern Ocean for up to 17 flights over West Antartica, the Antarctic Peninsula, and coastal areas where sea ice is prevalent. Each round-trip flight lasts about 11 hours, two-thirds of that time devoted to getting to and from Antarctica.

Operation Ice Bridge is a six-year campaign of annual flights to each of Earth's polar regions. The first flights in March and April carried researchcers over Greenland and the Arctic Ocean. This fall's Antarctic campaign, led by principal investigator Seelye Martin of the University of Washington, will begin the first sustained airborne research effort of its kind over the continent. Data collected by researchers will help scientists bridge the gap between NASA's Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) -- which is operating the last of its three lasers -- and ICESat-ll, scheduled to launch in 2014.

The Ice bridge flights will help scintitsts maintain the record of changes to sea ice and ice sheets that have been collected since 2003 by ICESat. The flights will lack the continent-wide coverage that can be achieved by satellite, so researchers carefully select key target locations. But the flights will also turn up new information not possible from orbit, such as the shape of the terrain below the ice.

"Space-based instruments like the ICESat lasers are the only way to find out where change is occurring in remote, continent-sized ice sheets like Antarctica," said Tom Wagner, cryphohere program schientst at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. "But aircraft missins like Ice Bridge allow us to follow up with more detailed studies and make other measurements critical to modeling sea level rise."



source: www.nasa.gov

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