Operation IceBridge returns to the Arctic

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s P-3 Orion airplane carrying IceBridge’s scientists and instruments gets ready to take off for the Arctic campaign’s first research flight from Thule Air Base, Greenland. – NASA/Operation IceBridge/John Woods

Operation IceBridge, NASA’s airborne survey of polar ice, has launched its eighth spring Arctic campaign. 

After a research flight over Greenland, it will continue surveying Arctic sea and land ice until 21 May.

Over the past seven years, IceBridge data have helped scientists improve forecasts for the summer melt season.

This year’s flights will be conducted aboard one of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) hurricane hunter planes, a P-3 Orion.

It carries a laser altimeter to measure the elevation of sea and land ice, three types of radar instruments to study the ice layers and the bedrock underneath the ice sheet, and a high-resolution camera technology to create colour maps of polar ice.

Scientists will also use infrared cameras to measure surface temperatures.

“This winter has been especially warm up in the Arctic, so there’s a lot of speculation about how the summer melt is going to unfold,” said IceBridge science team co-lead Jackie Richter-Menge. 

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A glacier in southern Greenland taken on IceBridge’s inaugural flight of its 2016 Arctic campaign. – NASA/Operation IceBridge/Jeremy Harbeck

“We know from the data IceBridge has been providing us that the sea ice thickness distribution in the Beaufort Sea is very important for anticipating how the summer melt is going to go, so we want to make sure we get adequate coverage in this region to give the modelers good data to initiate their seasonal forecasts.”

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Heimdal Glacier in southern Greenland, in an image captured on 13 October 2015, from NASA Langley Research Center’s Falcon 20 aircraft flying 10,000 metres above mean sea level. – NASA/John Sonntag

The second part of the Arctic campaign will be based in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland and will focus on gauging surface elevation changes in land ice.

“Our main priority is to look at the changes that have taken place since our previous campaigns, especially to look at fast-retreating glaciers like Jakobshavn and see how far inland they’re melting away,” said Eric Rignot, IceBridge’s other science team co-lead. 

The operation will IceBridge flew during last year’s post-melt campaign.

“By replicating most of the lines we flew in the spring and fall last year, we will look at not only yearly changes but also at seasonal changes, and this will help evaluate regional atmospheric climate models that reconstruct melt and snowfall on the ice sheet,” Rignot said.

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A view of Slidre Fiord in Eureka, Canada, from the Operation IceBridge P3 Orion aircraft. – NASA/Operation IceBridge/Jeremy Harbeck

You can follow this year’s campaign at http://www.nasa.gov/icebridge

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