Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory scientists are among the many researchers currently doing fieldwork in Antarctica. They’re participating in expeditions near, above and on the continent, doing critical studies that will advance understanding of Antarctica’s land and sea processes.
Peering Through Polar Ice
Scientists at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have designed a set of ice imaging instruments small enough to hitch a ride on planes flying over both poles on routine missions. This spring, the IcePod will begin collecting data over Greenland from the wing of a New York Air National Guard LC130 plane. This winter, flights begin over Antarctica. IcePod will help scientists to understand how quickly the ice sheets are changing as climate warms and what this will mean for global sea levels.
The Ross Ice Shelf is the largest of the Antarctic ice shelves, measuring just under the size of the state of Texas. It is several hundred meters thick, although most of this is below the water surface. Along the ~ 600 kilometer front edge of the shelf, the ice towers up to 50 meters in height; a sheer vertical wall of white and the iridescent blue of compressed ice.
Migrating south in the winter is a behavior that Antarctic scientists share with many species of birds, although the scientists fly just a bit further south. For the IcePod team it was time to join the migration so they could test their equipment in the most challenging environment the Earth has to offer.
144 miles separates Kangerlussuaq from Raven Camp. Not far really, just 144 miles – like traveling from the southern tip of New York City up to Albany. Flying at 270 knots we can be there in about half an hour, no time at all, and yet to the casual observer they seem worlds apart.
When we sat down to map out the flight plan, our request to the crew for locating lakes met with an easy nod: No problem at all. It took only seconds to register that our definition of lakes might differ from theirs.
Even the most skilled of English language lipreaders are only able to tease apart about 30 percent of the information being shared, I read in a recent article. The author, herself deaf, noted that in some transmissions, the information capture is higher, while in others, nothing is collected. An average of 30 percent information transfer…most of us seek more information, we are curious beings. I don’t know anyone who is happy to sit comfortably saying “yes we know 30 percent, that is good enough.”
The Lamont IcePod team is a blended mix of engineers and scientists learning from each other through the design and testing of this new instrument. With a range of talents and backgrounds, the project mixes seasoned field workers with those new to field work; experienced instrument developers with those newly learning this end of engineering; and scientists with countless hours spent pouring over Greenland ice sheet data with those exploring the ice sheet for the first time. It is the opportunity for mentoring and development that comes from this mix that has made the IcePod Instrument Development Project a good fit for its American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding.
When we left Stratton Air Field almost two weeks ago, I recall smiling when a mechanical issue temporarily pulled us from the aircraft and the woman shepherding us back into the waiting area remarked, “Don’t worry, we keep doing it until we get it right!” Today we are faced with just that type of day.
Holidays vary around the world with their dates and traditions, so it should have come as no surprise that we would find a holiday in our scheduled Greenland visit. Today, April 26, is “Store Bededag,” which translates as “Great Prayer Day,” brought by the Danish to Greenland when they ventured to this island from their homeland.
Ice sheets are large enough that they can create their own weather. Large mountains of ice several miles thick, they stretch into higher elevations and gather the clouds around them. The sunny but cold weather (-21 to -9 degrees C) is a tease to the group ready each morning and waiting for clearance, day after day.