After five days of weather delays, the NASA's IceBridge mission flew its first flight over the Antarctic polar caps yesterday.
The 12-hour flight was a great success, according to a report from Michael Studinger, one of the scientists on board the plane.
IceBridge is a six-year campaign to survey and monitor areas of Earth's polar ice sheets, glaciers and sea ice and how they are responding to climate change. The goal of this first flight of the winter Antarctic mission was to sample the conditions of sea ice in the Weddell Sea off the Antarctic Peninsula.
IceBridge's DC-8 plane, packed with scientists and equipments, traveled along a pair of lines from last year's mission that extend across the sea ice from the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula to south of Cape Norvegia, and back again. The flight path crossed the tip of the peninsula, proceeded to the eastern Weddell Coast, moved down the coast about 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers), and then transited back, where the sea ice is 1,500 feet (457 meters) thick.
One of the ways in which the plane measures the sea ice below is by Lidar (Light Detection And Ranging), an optical remote-sensing technology that measures properties of scattered light to find range and/or other information of a distant target.
"Lidars were successfully used to record the surface elevation of the sea ice floes, which are largely overlain by snow at this time of year. Wide-band radars were successfully used to estimate the thickness of the snow cover," Kenneth Jezek, the mission's science definition team co-leader from Ohio State University, told OurAmazingPlanet. "Knowledge about the snow thickness and also the surface elevation of the combined sea ice/snow cover column ultimately can be used to estimate the sea ice thickness."
Researchers who are part of the project but not on board the flights are also able to watch the progress of the flight in real time. Beyond the reports of the first mission's instruments working, there hasn't been much available to the researchers on the ground, but possibly in future missions sample data can accompany the feed.
"Right now, the flight and instrument crews have their hands full and are doing a great job!" Jezek said.
Sign up for the Live Science daily newsletter now
Get the world’s most fascinating discoveries delivered straight to your inbox.