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Pushing Polar Science
Pushing Polar Science
31 Mar 2009
(Source: NASA)

Steve Cole
Headquarters, Washington



WASHINGTON -- Although the International Polar Year officially came to a close in February, NASA is continuing to push the frontiers of polar science from space, the air and the surface of ice.

On Monday, NASA embarks on the first of two airborne field campaigns in the Arctic to take a closer look at Greenland and Iceland ice sheets and the region's sea ice and glaciers. From space, NASA's Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite, known as ICESat, is completing a seasonal survey of the world's ice sheets to gauge how and where they are changing. And later in 2009, NASA scientists will return to Antarctica to drill into the massive Pine Island Glacier.

The two-year International Polar Year focused science and education activities on Earth's remote polar regions and their connections to the rest of the Earth system. The event marked the 125th anniversary of the first polar year and the 50th anniversary of the International Geophysical Year. Scientists from more than 60 nations participated, including researchers funded by NASA and other U.S. agencies.

The International Polar Year prompted many research projects and innovative public outreach programs. Examples of ongoing projects NASA and its partners sponsor are:

NASA SATELLITE AND PLANE FLY IN TANDEM OVER GREELAND ICE SHEET NASA's P-3B aircraft takes off March 30 from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va., to begin a month-long Arctic research mission. Its main objective is to map the changing thickness of the Greenland ice sheet in tandem with NASA's ICESat. Because the ICESat mission has surpassed its expected lifetime, NASA is ensuring it can maintain the continuity of this ice sheet data record by taking airborne measurements nearly simultaneously with measurements from the spacecraft. NASA's William Krabill from Wallops Flight Facility, an expert at Greenland airborne ice sheet mapping, is leading the effort, dubbed "Operation Ice Bridge." For 2009, the P-3B is outfitted with an expanded array of instruments.

NEW AIRBORNE RADAR TO PEER INSIDE ICE SHEETS AND GLACIERS A team of NASA scientists begin an airborne campaign this spring to understand better how Arctic ice is changing and assess the impacts of climate change. During the seven-week Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar field campaign to Greenland and Iceland, scientists will use two new ice-penetrating radars flying aboard a modified NASA Gulfstream III aircraft. Data will provide new insights into our understanding of the flow of glaciers and ice streams while also serving as a test bed for future satellite missions. Scott Hensley of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., leads the campaign.

GLOBAL TOPOGRAPHIC SURVEY OF ICE SHEETS BEGINS SIXTH YEAR NASA's polar-orbiting ICESat spacecraft is wrapping up its latest month-long campaign to map Earth's changing ice sheets and polar sea ice. The new data from ICESat's laser-pulsing instrument adds another year to a detailed record of changes in the mass of ice sheets, the thickness of sea ice, and the speed of glacier motion at the ice sheet margins. Ron Kwok of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a team of researchers are using ICESat data to estimate how much Arctic sea ice has been lost in recent years.

RESEARCHERS POISED TO RETURN TO PINE ISLAND GLACIER Robert Bindschadler of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., and colleagues have revised their plans to drill through Antarctica's isolated Pine Island Glacier and take the first-ever look underneath the glacier at how the ocean and the ice interact.

The researchers were thwarted in their first attempt during the 2007-2008 field season because of concerns about the safety of landing aircraft on the remote glacier. The new plan calls for helicopter flights to establish a base camp later this year.

INTERNATIONAL TEAM WORKING TO CALCULATE ANTARCTIC DRAINAGE For the first time, a group of researchers from seven countries are calculating exactly how much ice is flowing off the Antarctic Ice Sheet and into the ocean. This fundamental measurement -- how much ice is being lost at the edges of the ice sheet -- will help researchers improve our knowledge of the changing volume of ice on the continent. Using multiple satellite data sets, groups from seven countries are applying a new analysis method to data from three satellites to account for all ice loss. Robert Bindschadler of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center is leading NASA's contribution to this international effort.

'FROZEN' OPENS ON SCIENCE ON A SPHERE THEATRES NASA's newest production for the "Science on a Sphere" projection system debuted on March 27 at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and Wallops Flight Facility. "Frozen," a 12-minute, narrated feature, explores Earth's changing ice and snow cover. Playing on nearly 30 screens around the world, "Frozen" will be coming soon to a museum near you.

For more information about NASA's International Polar Year projects,

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Last Updated: 31 Mar 2009