NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory has two weeks of support remaining in the agency’s sixth Operation IceBridge mission to study parts of the West Antarctica ice sheet and ice in the Bellingshausen, Weddell and Amundsen seas.
The aircraft is due to return to the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale on November 25.
The DC-8, based at Punta Arenas, Chile, has completed 16 science flights since Oct. 16. During the flights, scientists collected more than 60 hours of LIDAR data over 30,000 km (18,641 miles) according to IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger. Several flights have been canceled due to poor weather in the target areas. Imaging sea ice in the Bellingshausen and Amundsen seas is challenging.
“Sea ice missions in general cover huge areas, which makes it less likely to get weather conditions suitable for a low-altitude science mission compared to land ice missions, which typically cover smaller areas,” said Studinger. “To put this into perspective, an airborne sea ice mission is equivalent to flying from New York to Miami, Florida, and back at 1,500 feet altitude without encountering any clouds.”
One complicating factor is the lack of weather stations over the study area. Therefore, forecasting models, which use the station data, are unreliable in predicting relative humidity and cloud base, but critical for mission decision-making.
A number of the sites are repeated surveys from previous DC-8 missions to the area. Repeat data collection is critical to aid the science community in understanding how sea ice is changing in this region.
Operation IceBridge is one of NASA’s missions to monitor the Earth from land, air and space using satellites and ground-based observation campaigns.
Data collected during the 10-year mission to map the Antarctic and Arctic annually will help scientists bridge the gap in polar observations between NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), which stopped collecting science data in 2009, and ICESat-2 planned for launch in 2016.
For more information about NASA’s 2014 Earth science activities, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow.