Our ICE Bridge team of 34 scientists and NASA personnel has piled mounds of equipment, luggage, and emergency Arctic survival gear into the DC-8, setting off just before midnight for Thule, Greenland. All but two of the seats are filled, and every possible open area has been piled with our supplies for the next few weeks. Our flight will carry us up the west coast of the US and Canada and then across Alaska. The midnight departure adds a clandestine quality to the operation, but the intent is to place us over the Arctic coast of Alaska near sunrise so we can complete a daylight science flight across the Arctic Ocean.
The ICE Bridge mission is designed to collect data on polar ice thickness and coverage between NASA satellite missions. NASA’s ICE Sat I recently failed after outliving its expected operating timeframe, and it may be another five years until ICE Sat II is operational. The land based air flights of the ICE Bridge mission are following the tracks and dates of earlier ICE Sat flights to mirror the data for comparison, bridging the gap in information between the two satellites. We will be measuring change in both Arctic sea ice and glaciers.
Looking out the window, I am amazed at the number of ‘leads’ (a term for a sliver like break in the ice that exposes ocean water) and open water for this time of year – the end of winter. Today’s flight is measuring sea ice thickness north of Ellesmere Island where the thickest multiyear ice accumulates. Ice collects along this stretch of land, and along the northern coast of Canada, from the Arctic winds and ocean circulation pattern. Looking at changes in the thickness of this ice over the time of the ICE Bridge program will give valuable information on how the Arctic ice cover is changing.
Flying further south we sweep over the northwest corner of Greenland and I capture a picture of two of the largest glaciers in the northern hemisphere – Humboldt and Petermann.