NASA aircraft to carry out ongoing survey of polar ice caps

PALMDALE — A NASA research aircraft is to take off from the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility near Palmdale on Sunday, kicking off the second year of what the space agency calls the largest airborne survey ever of the Earth's polar ice.

The DC-8 airborne science laboratory is scheduled to arrive in Greenland on Monday as part of Operation IceBridge.

From there, scientists and flight crews expect to carry out 10-12 missions over the Arctic over a five week period, recording changes in the extent and thickness of polar ice.

"The first priority is to survey Arctic sea ice, which reaches its maximum extent each year in March or early April,'' according to a NASA statement. "High- and low-altitude flights also will survey Greenland's ice sheets and outer glaciers.''

The DC-8 and a smaller aircraft — a P-3B — will be equipped with an Airborne Topographic Mapper, which measures changes in the surface elevation of ice by bouncing laser beams from the ground back to the aircraft and converting the readings into elevation maps.

Another laser altimeter — the Land, Vegetation and Ice Sensor — is used at higher altitudes and can survey larger areas more quickly.

More information on Operation IceBridge can be reached at www.nasa.gov/icebridge.