CReSIS joins IceBridge Mission in Arctic


By Bill Daehler
Winter 2013

This spring CReSIS researchers again deployed with NASA’s Operation IceBridge, providing the technology and expertise necessary to help scientists and modelers better understand and predict the behavior of Earth’s ice caps.

This time around the CReSIS team will be working aboard NASA’s P-3 Orion Aircraft. The aircraft was fitted with several CReSIS radar systems: the MCoRDS depth sounder, the Accumulation radar, the Ku-band radar, and the Snow radar. The mission will also utilize Indiana University’s state-of-the-art Forward Observer data management system.

CReSIS’ Dr. Carl Leuschen, Dr. Fernando Rodriguez-Morales, Dr. John Paden and Dr. Bruno Camps Raga, helped install CReSIS instruments on the aircraft in early March with support from Graduate Research Assistants (GRA) Daniel Gomez-Garcia and Bryan Townley. The instruments were installed and tested at Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility (WFF)—located on the Virginia coast—which is NASA’s primary facility for the “management and implementation of suborbital research.”

On March 14 and 15, the team tested the instruments along the Eastern shoreline of the US and over the Atlantic Ocean. The test flights are necessary to make sure all instruments are operating properly and to collect data to calibrate the instruments. Conducting tests along the shore is useful because sand reflects light in ways similar to ice, which is important for certain types of laser-based equipment. Meanwhile, other instruments like the MCoRDS are best tested over the ocean.

Test Flight Path

Photo 1: The March 14 test flight path for testing and calibrating instruments. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Once all systems were fitted and tested in-flight, the CReSIS team accompanied the aircraft to Thule, Greenland on March 18. The mission is estimated to tally a total of 231.5 flight hours.

NASA's P-3 Aircraft

Photo 2: NASA's P-3 Aircraft fitted with CReSIS radar. Photo courtesy of CReSIS.

The CReSIS team deploying to the Arctic comes from the University of Kansas (KU). The team includes Dr. Paden and Dr. Camps Raga; GRAs Bryan Townley, Daniel Gomez-Garcia, and Logan Smith; and electronics technician Jay Fuller.

The first series of science flights were conducted on March 20 out of Thule. On March 21, IceBridge made a transit mission to Fairbanks, Alaska for sea ice flights.

"Our long term plan, beginning with the Arctic 2013 campaign, is to scale back the land ice portion of the campaign while maintaining the same coverage of sea ice as in previous campaigns," said Michael Studinger, an IceBridge Project Scientist, according to NASA.

Fernando Rodriguez-Morales

Photo 3: Fernando Rodriguez-Morales aboard the P-3 Aircraft during the installation and testing phase of the mission. Photo courtesy of Bruno Camps Raga, CReSIS Engineering Associate.

From Thule, the team will travel to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland on April 2 to conduct survey flights. The team will return to Thule for more survey flights on April 19. On May 3, the team will return to Wallops. After downloading and removing radar equipment from the aircraft, the CReSIS team will travel home to KU on May 6.

Keep track of the CReSIS Blog for updates and additional information as the IceBridge mission progresses.

Taking classrooms on IceBridge

This IceBridge mission will also utilize teachers to encourage interest in STEM activities among students. Polar Trec, an organization that encourages collaboration between teachers and researchers, made this educational experience possible.

Mark Buesing, a physics teacher at Libertyville High School in Libertyville, Illinois, will be one of three educators that will accompany the researchers on the IceBridge mission. Buesing will be updating a journal, hosted by Polar Trec, which can be followed throughout the mission.

The IceBridge mission will also host, from the P-3 Orion, in-flight live chats with classrooms. CReSIS has been promoting this exiting educational opportunity using its widespread connections with science teachers.