Saturday, March 27, 2010

Operation IceBridge Off to a Winning Start in Greenland

Hello and a warm welcome to all blog readers from the IceBridge team here at Thule Air Base in northern Greenland. After taking off on Sunday night from NASA Dryden's Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., the NASA DC-8 arrived at Thule Airbase on Monday afternoon. Both the aircraft and science teams have done an incredible job in setting up operations in record time here in Thule.

The moon and sunrise are visible over the Arctic Ocean during the flight from Palmdale, Calif., to Thule, Greenland. Credit: Michael Studinger

We were able to take off for an eight-hour science flight on Tuesday morning to survey the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean north of Ellesmere Island. Wednesday's science flight was targeted at several glaciers north of Thule. Some of the glaciers have been surveyed for the first time last year and we are back this year to monitor the changes that have occurred since last spring. We begin the day with flying over a small glacier called Heilprin Glacier. We are very early in the season and the sun is just above the horizon in the morning hours, illuminating the coast of Greenland with its frozen fjords, icebergs and glaciers in a beautiful light.

The sun is very low and only barely above the horizon at the beginning of the third science flight, creating beautiful illumination of the cost of Greenland with its frozen fjords, icebergs and glaciers. Credit: Michael Studinger

After an hour of flying we begin to fly a grid pattern in the catchment area of Petermann Glacier to measure the thickness of the ice with a radar system from the University of Kansas. These data will be used as input for computer models that will allow us to better predict how the Greenland ice sheet will respond to environmental changes in the Arctic.

We continue our flight by repeating two survey lines along Petermann Glacier that have been surveyed several years before. The scenery with the steep sidewalls is spectacular. We can see huge meltwater channels on the surface that will be filled with water running down the glacier when the Arctic melt season starts in a few months.

The IceBridge crew fly down Petermann Glacier in northern Greenland with NASA's DC-8 aircraft. Credit: Michael Studinger

After completing the flight lines over the Petermann Glacier we turn back towards Thule Airbase and measure the ice surface elevation with a laser altimeter along a track that has been measured many times by NASA's ICESat satellite. We are heading back to Thule Airbase to land before the tower and airfield close for the day.

At the end of a day of glacier flying, Saunders Island -- a small table mountain just outside Thule -- can be seen during the approach to Thule Air Base. Credit: Michael Studinger

We have had an incredibly successful start of the 2010 Arctic campaign. We have been able to collect LVIS laser data along the transit from California to Greenland and have been flying 3 days in a row collecting huge amounts of data. A storm system here in Thule has forced us today to stay on the ground and everyone is catching up with sleep and data processing. With a little bit of luck we hope to fly the DC-8 again on Friday. Thanks to all the aircraft and science teams, the staff at Thule Air Base, and many people back home who have made such an incredible start of the IceBridge 2010 campaign possible!

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