Our entire planet is affected by how Antarctic ice moves and changes.
Over 10 years NASA’s Operation IceBridge has flown the largest survey of Earth’s polar ice.
Now NASA and the Australian Antarctic Program are working together to map sea ice in East Antarctica.
Dr Petra Heil, sea ice physicist: “My work really looks at understanding the sea ice physics, and its real behaviour as it’s a component in the climate system, and the motivation is to understand what the sea ice has done and is doing now in order to forecast what its fate is in the future.”
For the first time from Hobart, NASA will fly over coastal ice in line with their orbiting satellite.
Petra Heil: “A lot of the satellite instruments we use are on satellites that are polar orbiting, and so if you imagine, they all kind of cross or need to travel around the pole, or near the pole; we get a convergence of their trajectories in the sea ice area and over the Antarctic.”
ICESat-2 carries a laser altimeter so accurate it measures ice changes in centimetres from 500km above.
On the ground, scientists near Casey research station will measure the density of the snow and ice.
Petra Heil: “On the ground, will move along the travel path of the plane, or the satellite, and they take every kilometre probably along a 10km transect very detailed analysis and measurements, take the ice core and send that back.”
The work on the ice is crucial to ‘ground truth’ what’s measured from air and space.
Petra Heil: “It’s exhausting, exhilarating, but it’s incredibly rewarding, and I think you have to be on the ground to really understand the physics in the system that you are working on.”
Production: Mark Horstman, Dan Broun. Vision: Simon Payne, Brett Wilks, Glenn Johnstone, Daleen Koch, Pete Curtis, NASA/GSFC Scientific Visualisation Studio.