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IceBridge Returns to Thwaites Glacier

Posted November 7, 2014

NASA’s Operation IceBridge recently reached the mid-point of the 2014 Antarctic campaign, flying two more missions in West Antarctica. These flights measured the Land Glacier and nearby coastal areas and the lower portion of Thwaites Glacier, an area of highest priority to the mission.

A view of mountains and glaciers in Antarctica’s Marie Byrd Land seen during the Nov. 2, 2014, IceBridge survey flight. Credit: NASA / Michael Studinger

A view of mountains and glaciers in Antarctica’s Marie Byrd Land seen during the Nov. 2, 2014, IceBridge survey flight. Credit: NASA / Michael Studinger

On Nov. 2, the IceBridge team flew over the Ruppert Coast region of Antarctica near the Getz Ice Shelf. One of the more distant survey areas of the campaign, this flight put the DC-8 within a few hundred miles of a line flown over the Ross Sea during the 2013 Antarctic campaign. This flight was one of a series of five newly designed missions designed to survey ice surface elevation and ice thickness, map sub-glacial bedrock and collect data on water depth beneath floating ice shelves in areas near the Hull and Land glaciers.

After taking off from Punta Arenas, the DC-8 crossed the Bellingshausen Sea, and after collecting high-altitude data on lines previously measured during IceBridge’s 2011 Antarctic campaign, descended to the survey area. Once at 1500 feet above the surface, IceBridge researchers collected data along the Land Glacier and then climbed to return to Punta Arenas, collecting high altitude data on the way back.

On the morning of Nov. 3, IceBridge mission planners visited the airport weather office and came back with good news. Conditions over the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers in West Antarctica are frequently cloudy. So when the forecast showed clear conditions over the lower portion of Thwaites Glacier, IceBridge seized the opportunity to complete one of their highest priority missions.

After a few hours of flight to get to the region from southern Chile, the DC-8 descended to the day’s science target, passing over Pine Island Bay along the way. This flight measured tracks previously flown in 2011 and 2012 and lines from a joint NASA – Chilean survey in 2002.

Repeated measurements of the same areas are crucial for understanding how the ice is changing in the region. In addition, snow depth measurements collected by one of the on-board radar instruments will help researchers better understand snow accumulation rates in a region where it is difficult for researchers to collect surface data.

The team found clear skies overhead, with clouds at the edges of the survey area. As the survey continued, the team encountered some cloudy areas, but was able to keep under the cloud deck to collect surface data. The last lines of the day’s survey took the DC-8 around the dormant volcano Mount Takahe, giving researchers a scenic view just before they made the climb to return to Punta Arenas.

With about half of the campaign done, IceBridge has completed 10 science flights over Antarctica, and the team looks ahead to more successful flights over the next few weeks.

Source: NASA

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