The area of coastline where the glacier-laden mountains of Alaska meet the Pacific Ocean has some of the most stunning scenery on Earth. This 360 video takes you flying low over the landscape of Icy Bay from a vantage point just under the wing of a bright-red, single-engine De Havilland Otter, decked out with science instruments designed to measure changes Alaskan glaciers. A small team of NASA-funded researchers has been surveying dozens of glaciers in the region since 2009, and has put some dramatic numbers on the overall net loss of ice from the state: 75 billion tons of ice every year from 1994 to 2013. In 2018, Chris Larsen and Martin Truffer, both of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, conducted the science campaign along with the University of Arizona's Jack Holt and University of Texas student Michael Christoffersen, and NASA communicators were along to document their efforts. The team headed out again in August of 2020 to conduct its surveys as part of NASA's larger Operation IceBridge campaign.
IceBridge has been measuring Earth’s changing glaciers and ice sheets since 2009 using a range of large and small aircraft and a wide variety of scientific instruments, from laser altimeters, to radar, to magnetometers and gravimeters. IceBridge was conceived to avoid a gap in measurements of ice height between two satellite missions: NASA’s Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), which stopped collecting data in 2009, and its ICESat-2, which launched in 2018. While scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, have managed the two larger yearly field campaigns in the Arctic and Antarctica, monitoring Alaskan glaciers fell on a smaller team based at the University of Fairbanks, Alaska. The Alaskan aircraft is owned and piloted by Paul Claus, a bush pilot who’s logged more than 35,000 flight hours, mostly in the wilderness. Claus hand-flies all of IceBridge’s data collection lines along Alaskan glaciers, because the flight paths are often meandering and close to ridge lines, which does not allow for auto pilot. Claus’s intimate knowledge of Alaska’s tricky mountain weather is vital for the mission’s safety and efficiency.
For more about Operation IceBridge Alaska: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2019/a-decade-of-icebridge-alaska-flights