NASA Surveys Ice Changes in Antarctica
The NASA Operation IceBridge program begun the third airborne research campaign earlier this week. The airborne missions involve surveying the ice plates of Antarctica and providing the data needed to track changes in the ice. A group of special scientific instruments are carried on two planes from the base in Chile. Both planes will operate on daily flights until mid-November. 98% of the continent is covered in permanent ice, but certain features like glaciers are becoming thinner. This could indicate serious melting that could lead to sea level changes or other serious problems.
NASA is charting the changes of ice features to determine what is causing them to thin. Certain parts of the continent, such as the Pine Island Glacier, sit on bedrock. Shifting of the bedrock could cause ice thickness changes, or increasing temperatures could be causing melting. Research is finally beginning on the data gathered by the IceBridge program as the third year of data is gathered. Scientists with the team are comparing the data to track ice thinning, bedrock shifts and water level information.
Even if the ice isn’t melting due to climate change, the thinner ice sheets still change the sea-level. A small rise in sea level could destroy millions of miles of inhabited coastal areas around the world. While sea-level increases build up slowly, they eventually have a very large impact on human life. The researchers are using a variety of laser-based topography mapping equipment, radars and photography tools to create clear and detailed maps of the ice. More information is needed on the bedrock that supports the ice, and mapping this rock is the focus of the 2011 flight missions. A new gravimeter has been added to help measure the ocean floor below floating sheets and shelves of ice.