How to

24 May 2017

NASA Expands Range of Annual Arctic Ice Survey

Operation IceBridge may not be widely known to the public at large, but it is undoubtedly an important undertaking. Each year, NASA takes to the air with the aim of collecting data on the changing state of land and sea ice in the polar region as a result of rising global temperatures.

As climate change and its effects continue to escalate, so too must our efforts to understand and counteract it, and so this year saw the range of Operation IceBridge extended to its widest-reaching yet.

Img: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Concluding on May 12th, this year saw the operation expanding to cover the Eurasian half of the Arctic Basin for the first time with the launch of two research flights out of a new base located in the coal-mining town of Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Also included in this year’s survey was the taking of measurements from a newly formed crack on the ice shelf of Petermann Glacier.

“This has easily been our best year ever for surveying sea ice,” said Nathan Kurtz, IceBridge’s project scientist and a sea ice researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Geographically, we covered a wider area than ever before, and the new instruments we deployed during this campaign have given us denser and more accurate measurements.”

Operation IceBridge consists of 39 8-hour research flights spread over a period of 10 weeks, of which 13 focus on surveying sea ice while the remaining 26 target land ice. The first of this year’s flights departed on March 9th with the goal of overflying the Arctic Ocean’s sea ice cover, plus several fast-changing land ice areas at Thule Air Base in northwest Greenland, and Fairbanks in Alaska.

Casting our attention back to the newly included missions out of Svalbard, these research flights highlighted a worrying truth: the layer of snow present on the sea ice in the Eurasian side of the Arctic is currently much thinner than that predicted by snow depth climatology models based on older measurements., which is sure to have a noticeable impact on how the area reacts to changing climates in the future.

Operation IceBridge Zigzags out of Svalbard   - Source: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

“The new snow measurements will help better understand changes in the Arctic sea ice cover and help constrain satellite measurements to make sure they’re accurate,” Kurtz said.

The mission also extended its range westward this year, crossing the International Date Line for the first time on its way to the western side of the Chukchi Sea, located between Alaska and Russia.

Two additional campaigns will be carried out by IceBridge this summer. The first, based out of Thule and commencing in late July, will focus on the multi-year sea ice cover north of Greenland and in the Canadian Archipelago. The second, operating out of Kangerlussuaq from early September, will replicate land ice missions that IceBridge completed this spring.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.