Operation IceBridge is a six year mission conducted by NASA, designed to monitor changes in polar ice.
It is the largest airborne survey of polar ice ever flown. The operation began in 2009, and will run until 2015.
It is a temporary replacement for the ICESat satellite, which was a satellite mission for measuring ice sheet mass and was part of NASA’s Earth Observing System.
Now in it’s forth year, scientists and crew members with Operation IceBridge are beginning another campaign over Antarctica.
Operation IceBridge’s return to the Antarctic comes 12 months after a large ridge was discovered on Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier. (1)
Pine Island Glacier Campaign
According to a press statement released by NASA, the Pine Island Glacier campaign began on 12 October, 2012, when NASA’s DC-8 research aircraft left Punta Arenas in Chile on an 11-hour flight over the Thwaites Glacier in west Antarctica.
The campaign will operate out of Punta Arenas through mid-November and will survey areas of the land and sea ice that have not been previously measured to gather data on areas that are rapidly changing such as the Pine Island Glacier. (1)
Scientists have warned that the gargantuan crack that is slowly splitting the Pine Island Glacier apart, the fast-melting glacier is about to lose a chunk of ice that is “larger than all of New York City”. (2)
In October 2011, NASA’s Terra Satellite took a picture of the crevasse, which at the time stretched 30 kilometres long and 80 metres wide.
In early February this year, Eric Rignot, oceanographer of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that it was difficult to predict when the giant iceberg might come away but would be “in the coming months for sure.” (2)
Nine months later, the Pine Island Glacier is still intact, but what is particularly concerning to glaciologists is that the glacier pattern is deviating from a normal cycle as the crack is forming significantly more upstream than had previously been the case.
Ted Scambos, glaciologist of the National Show and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, warns that when the cracked point of the rift starts to climb upstream, “you generally see some acceleration of the glacier”.
This means that the ice will flow into the ocean at a faster rate, contributing even more to the rise of the sea level.
The Pine Island Glacier is moving approximately three kilometres a year but has been accelerating considerably recently. What is of major concern to scientists is the fact that ice flows from the Pine Island Glacier alone account for a quarter to a third of Antarctica’s total contribution to sea level rise. (2)
National Geographic published an article covering why, when sea levels are concerned, changes in the Pine Island Glacier and other West Antarctic glaciers are so important – because the West Antarctica ice streams are more fast-flowing than the continent’s other glaciers.
Therefore, when ice breaks off the Pine Island Glacier, more ice can flow in faster from the above mountains – ice that will eventually wind up contributing to sea level rise. NSIDC’s Scambos told reporters:
“This glacier is really important.” (2)
Hence the involvement of NASA’s IceBridge operation.
NASA’s IceBridge Operation
Using a variety of scientific sensors onboard the DC-8, IceBridge will collect information on different aspects of sea and land ice in this rapidly changing area.
As well as surveying the Pine Island Glacier and the Western Antarctica area, IceBridge will also fly along tracks for CryoSat -2, the European Space Agency’s satellite that monitors changes in ice.
Although it is important to note that IceBridge did not come into operation solely because of rapid Antarctic changes.
Top Secret Writers spoke directly with Stephen E. Cole, Media Advisory at NASA Headquarters, Washington, who told us:
“Operation IceBridge came into being several years ago not because of specific changes in polar ice but because NASA wanted to continue a long-term record of ice changes at both poles that began with our satellites. The mission is intended to ‘bridge’ polar observations made by our now-defunct ICESat Satellite and its replacement, ICESat-2, still have a few years away from launch.”
The six-year IceBridge operation is the largest airborne survey of polar ice ever. In utilizing an extremely specialized fleet of research aircraft equipped with the most sophisticated suite of scientific instruments will be imperative in enabling scientists to characterize annual changes in the thickness of ice sheets, glaciers and sea ice.
In collecting such critical data, Operation IceBridge will help scientists better predict the response of Earth’s polar ice to climate change and resulting sea-level rise.