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October 15, 2012

NASA Resumes Annual Research Flights over Antarctica as Scientists Study Effects of Climate Change

By Ed Silverstein, TMCnet Contributor

NASA continues to investigate the terrain and climate of Antarctica, even as concerns mount in the scientific community about climate change. Now in its fourth year, the IceBridge Antarctic mission resumed on Friday when NASA's DC-8 research aircraft left Punta Arenas, Chile for an 11-hour flight that went over the Thwaites Glacier in western Antarctica.

The IceBridge mission will survey both land and sea ice to gather data on Pine Island Glacier. Last year, the IceBridge team discovered a large rift in the Pine Island Glacier, as well as noticed that a large crack in Pine Island Glacier's floating ice shelf had increased in size. The ice shelf could break off a large iceberg into Pine Island Bay in the Amundsen Sea, scientists caution.

Several of the flights will examine ice streams feeding into the Weddell Sea, as well. The flights will collect data on the ice streams, and research how changing conditions may impact the flow of ice into the ocean, and the rise in sea-level, NASA said.

"We have added surveys of ice streams flowing into the Ronne and Filchner ice shelves," NASA project scientist Michael Studinger said in an agency statement. "This is something we haven't done before." 

NASA's Aqua and Terra spacecraft have been taking images of the Pine Island Glacier. NASA has also relied on radar data from the German Aerospace Center's TerraSAR-X satellite.

IceBridge also will collect data on sea ice in the Weddell and Bellingshausen seas.

In addition, NASA has tried to use models to predict what Antarctic sea ice might do with a warming global climate. Increased data would improve the findings from models. New data will also help explain how Antarctic sea ice changes over time, NASA said.

"This is why having observations is really important," NASA researcher Nathan Kurtz said in a statement carried by TMCnet. "We want to make sure these models are getting the physics right.”

IceBridge will further gather information using sensors on the DC-8, which include a laser altimeter used to measure surface elevation changes, radar instruments for measuring snow depth and ice thickness, a gravimeter that collects data on the size and shape of water cavities under ice shelves, and a digital camera that captures high-resolution images that can be used for building maps and digital elevation models of the ice, NASA explained.

"This area is changing so rapidly we need to survey every year," Studinger added.

The IceBridge project science office is based at Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The DC-8 is based at NASA's Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility located in Palmdale, Calif.

There is some controversy about global warming. TMCnet recently reported that a new study by Robert Wilson – a University of St. Andrews in Scotland paleoclimatologist – analyzed 2,000 years of natural history from the data collected by tree rings, and has suggested that it may not be as “hot” of a topic. In fact, the climate has been cooling for the last 2,000 years, the study claims.

Edited by Allison Boccamazzo
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