MOJAVE DESERT– At first glance, a dry lakebed in the desert seems like the last place to prepare to study ice. But on Oct. 2, NASA’s Operation IceBridge carried out a ground-based GPS survey of El Mirage Dry Lake in the Mojave Desert.
Members of the IceBridge team are currently at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s Palmdale facility, preparing instruments aboard the agency’s DC-8 research aircraft for IceBridge mission flights over Antarctica.
Part of this preparation involves test flights over the desert, where researchers verify their instruments are working properly. El Mirage serves as a prime location for testing the mission’s laser altimeter, the Airborne Topographic Mapper, because the lakebed has a flat surface and reflects light similarly to snow and ice.
The photo above, taken shortly after the survey, shows the GPS-equipped survey vehicle and a stationary GPS station (left of the vehicle) on the lakebed with the constellation Ursa Major, commonly known as the Big Dipper, in the background.
By driving the vehicle in parallel back and forth lines over a predefined area and comparing those GPS elevation readings with measurements from the stationary GPS, researchers are able to build an elevation map that will be used to precisely calibrate the laser altimeter for ice measurements.
After instrument checkout and pilot proficiency flights this week, NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory is scheduled to depart the NASA Armstrong’s Palmdale facility to begin Operation IceBridge research flights over Antarctica on Oct. 15.
The mission will be based out of Punta Arenas, Chile, until Nov. 23.
For more information about NASA’s Operation IceBridge, visit http://www.nasa.gov/icebridge.