NASA’s Operation IceBridge surveys Thwaites Glacier and Bellinghausen Sea
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — As Arctic sea ice melted away to a new record-low level this summer, global warming deniers tried to deflect attention from the meltdown by emphasizing the growth in Antarctic sea ice.
Of course, the increase in Antarctic sea ice is small compared to the loss of Arctic ice, and there are other hints that Antarctica is set to experience some major changes. In coming decades, entire ice shelves along the coast may crumble into the sea, potentially contributing significantly to sea level rise.
To measure those impending changes, NASA has been doing extensive aerial surveys in Antarctica with Operation IceBridge, and this year’s flying season began productively with a land ice survey of Thwaites Glacier and a sea ice flight over parts of the Bellingshausen Sea.
During the first few weeks of a campaign, IceBridge typically concentrates on sea ice before it begins to melt as spring temperatures rise, but as often happens in the field, the weather had other ideas.
Thwaites Glacier is a rapidly-changing ice stream in West Antarctica that flows into Pine Island Bay. Thwaites has been the subject of repeated missions over the past several years by IceBridge and other organizations, such as the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin (UTIG). UTIG is one of IceBridge’s partnering organizations, though their survey in this region was part of a project that occurred before IceBridge.
Combining new measurements with these previously gathered data gives researchers a more detailed view of parts of Thwaites Glacier, and the resulting information will help with various computer models used to predict how ice sheets change over time.
On Oct. 13, the weather shifted somewhat, allowing for the first sea ice flight of the campaign, a high-priority mission in the Bellingshausen Sea along the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula. This marked the fourth year of data collection over this area. Repeated survey lines on both this flight and the previous one are vital for building a record of change in the Antarctic.
The DC-8 also flew over Burke Island in the Amundsen Sea. Using the DC-8′s Coherent Radar Depth Sounder, IceBridge scientists were able to record ice thickness on the small island, something Studinger said is a subject of some interest in the science community.