NASA Airborne Campaign To Measure Greenland Ice Sheet Summer Melt [VIDEO]

First Posted: Nov 02, 2013 03:42 AM EDT

For the first time, NASA is conducting an airborne campaign that will measure the Greenland Ice Sheet Summer melt. The data collected will enhance the understanding of seasonal changes, according to the latest announcement by the agency.

NASA began an airborne campaign to measure the changes taking place in the Greenland Ice Sheet as well as the surrounding Arctic sea ice caused by a single season of summer melt. On Wednesday NASA's research aircraft C-130 flew from the Wallops Flight Facility based in Wallops Islands to Greenland, where researchers will gather data to better understand the seasonal melt. Also, the data will provide baseline measurements for the satellite missions conducted in future. The survey flights will continue till November 16.

During the campaign the aircraft will gather land and sea ice information and this will offer the study researchers a comprehensive view of the change in the season and will also provide a framework for measurements that will be accumulated during the 2016 NASA's ICESat-2 mission.

"The more ground we cover the more comparison points we'll have for ICESat-2," Bryan Blair of Goddard Space Flight Center in reenbelt, Md., principal investigator for the Land, Vegetation and Ice Sensor, or LVIS, said in a statement.

The decline in the ice sheet elevation due to the warm summer temperatures can be significant in low-lying areas along the Greenland coast. In the past years, summers have caused a decline of about 100 feet in elevation in the Jakobshavn Glacier, which located in the lower elevations of western Greenland. Less dramatic changes have been observed in the higher elevations farther inland. The decline is just a few inches and is caused by pockets of air in the snowpack that reduce in size as the temperatures warm.

According to Ben Smith, senior physicist at the University of Washington's Advanced Physics Laboratory, Seattle, the surface melt is more than half of the Greenland's mass loss.

The ice elevations will be measured using the LVIS laser altimeter as well the new smaller version LVIS-GH that is intended to fly on NASA's Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle. LVIS and LVIS-GH will measure separate but overlapping areas of ice from a height of 28,000 feet. Both the instruments will be placed aboard C-130 that will allow the researchers to sample the high and low elevation ice together as well as different geographic areas. Apart from this, the researchers can also accumulate the data on Arctic sea once it reaches its annual minimum extent that will provide the mission team with a clear view of procedures taking place during summer. On combining this with data provided by the European Space Agency's CryoSat-2 polar-monitoring satellite the team can gather data on snow covering sea ice.

"We plan to concentrate our flights on areas northwest, southeast and southwest Greenland and the Arctic Ocean," said Michelle Hofton, LVIS mission scientist at Goddard and the University of Maryland, College Park. "The measurements we collect along lines sampled in IceBridge's spring 2013 Arctic campaign will allow scientists to assess changes over the summer."

LVIS will identify the snow surface as the CryoSat's rader will penetrate through the snow to detect the top of the ice. With this they hope to calculate the snow depth, this measurement will be important for assessing the snow cover in sea ice during different time of the year.


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