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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Radar Mapping Glaciers

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Monday, July 31, 2017/Categories: natural history, video, space science, sustainability, environment, adventure , climate change


                                      Retreating Helheim Glacier, Greenland (credit: Operation IceBridge)

Understanding what is happening to polar and mountain ice is critical to understanding what is happening from climate change. Besides rising sea levels from all the melted ice, glaciers and ice caps affect weather patterns many of which, ie. monsoons, are critical to people who depend upon their regularity. So, what if you could measure a glacier in super-high detail and the measurements could be visualized in 3D? And what if you could compare that data with data collected over a timeline of decades? Operation IceBridge offers just such scientific, engineering, and data visualization capabilities.

Established in 2009, as an airborne environmental monitoring mission, Operation IceBridge is designed to:

"image Earth’s polar ice in unprecedented detail to better understand processes that connect the polar regions with the global climate system. IceBridge utilizes a highly specialized fleet of research aircraft and a sophisticated suite of innovative science instruments to characterize annual changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets. The mission also collects critical data used to predict the response of polar ice to climate change and resulting sea-level rise."

The IceBridge aircraft utilizes advanced scientific instruments, including ice-penetrating radar, lasers, and high-definition cameras to understand ice dynamics worldwide. The program has just released a data animation of ice measurements gathered over Greenland's Helheim Glacier and compared the data to changes over the past two decades from satellite data gathered by Canada’s Radarsat and other instruments. The visualized resulting maps are impressive.

According to the NASA announcement: "between 2000-2005, the Helheim Glacier quickly increased the rate at which it lost ice to the sea, while also rapidly retreating inland."

IceBridge laser instrument investigator Michael Studinger said: "We now have a two-decade-long, reliable series of (ice) elevation measurements in Greenland allowing us to link to the data collected by many other satellites. Having such a long time series is important when you look at changes in the ice sheets.”

Helheim Glacier has now regained a portion of the distance of lost ice as expected with a dynamic environmental situation. The NASA mission plans on returning to Greenland in 2018 to continue its annual airborne surveys assuming research budgets allow. Understanding impacts from climate change requires many talents, much data, patience, and money.



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