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Valley full of snow with airplane engine.
Photo Credit: Michael Studinger/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

The IceBridge flight on Nov. 16, 2009, took scientists through a tour of the Antarctic cryosphere, including this look at a steep valley on the continent's peninsula. Small caps of stagnant ice cover the summits while the ice in the valley moves quickly toward the coast.

Data download

IceBridge mission makes ice observations available through NSIDC

An airborne mission by NASA External U.S. government site to observe changes in the Earth’s polar regions is making sure the data will make it to researches as quickly as possible.

NASA’s Operation IceBridge External U.S. government site is about to begin its second Antarctic campaign in October 2010 after completing its second Arctic trip in May. The six-year mission will provide a three-dimensional view of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, ice shelves and sea ice using a variety of instruments flown aboard specially modified airplanes.

The campaign began in 2009, with mission scientists and crew participating in 41 flights and collecting data over about 143,000 miles.

Airplane on the ground.
Photo Credit: Steve Cole
NASA's DC-8 in Punta Arenas, Chile, after a mission to Antarctica.
[See previous article: NASA IceBridge.]

NASA and its designated archive for IceBridge data, the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) External Non-U.S. government site at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder) External Non-U.S. government site, have teamed to move that data from the aircraft and instruments to researchers’ computers, according to a joint press release from NASA and NSIDC.

“Anyone can access the wealth of IceBridge data online, and do so free of charge and without a formal request,” said Michael Studinger External Non-U.S. government site, IceBridge project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center External U.S. government site in Greenbelt, Maryland, in a prepared statement. “It’s critical for data to be free and accessible so scientists can conduct timely studies of ice dynamics and a changing climate.”

NSIDC is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences External Non-U.S. government site at CU-Boulder. The National Science Foundation (NSF) External U.S. government site is a major sponsor of the NSIDC, along with NASA and NOAA.

The NSF is not directly involved with IceBridge, but several radars used on the science campaign were developed by the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) External Non-U.S. government site at the University of Kansas External Non-U.S. government site, which is an NSF-funded Science and Technology Center.

Under carriage of an airplane.
Photo Credit: Jane Peterson
A radar system developed by CReSIS integrated into the DC-8.

The IceBridge mission is a stopgap for the recent decommissioning of NASA’s Ice, Cloud, and Elevation satellite (ICESat) External U.S. government site, which re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere on Aug. 30 over the Barents Sea.

ICESat operated from 2003 to 2009, transmitting data on conditions of sea ice, glaciers, ice sheets and ice shelves. Its ability to measure elevation helped scientists study changes to these features in three dimensions. These data have been urgently needed as the Earth’s polar regions show rapid change as a result of climate warming, according to the NSIDC.

A second ICESat satellite is scheduled for launch in 2015.

In the Antarctic, IceBridge researchers made a detailed survey of the Pine Island, Thwaites, Smith, Kohler and Crane glaciers, while another instrument peeked at the detailed topography under Pine Island’s floating ice tongue. They collected the first airborne data for sea ice in the Weddell and Bellingshausen seas.

To date, NSIDC has published twelve data sets from the IceBridge External Non-U.S. government site Greenland and Antarctica campaigns. These data sets spanned ten instruments, including lidars, radars, sounders, gravimeters, mappers, and cameras, as well as atmospheric measurements and aircraft positioning data.

“It’s exciting to have such a diversity of data, preserving it for the future and making it available in ways that will encourage new discoveries,” said Marilyn Kaminski External Non-U.S. government site, NSIDC’s project manager for IceBridge. “There’s so much potential that can be tapped.”

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Curator: Peter Rejcek, Antarctic Support Contract | NSF Official: Winifred Reuning, Division of Polar Programs