Arctic 2010 Video File #3 Transcript

Narration: Michelle Williams



The drainage basins, the areas below 2000 foot elevation, our laser equipment is detecting quite a bit of change. And you can actually see this with your eye. When you fly over the Jakobshavn glacier, the glacier itself is in retreat and you can see if when you look at it airborne over top of it.


The airplane wasn’t designed for this. The airplane was built 40 years ago to haul 200 passengers 5000 miles intercontinental at high altitudes, go a long ways. But the airplane suites our purpose because it has a very good navigation system in it, it has good engines, good performance. And although it wasn’t ever thought of as a low-level worker, it turns out to be a very good one. You just have to keep it in the regime that it was designed for at low altitude: the speeds and things like that so we can fly it comfortably. But it’s an excellent platform, though I know the guy who drew it up never expected the airplane to be doing what it’s doing. It’s a workhorse, and it’s very valuable and indispensible. 1:05 this airplane, the DC-8 is actually, this airplane it’s one of a kind and it’s a national asset. It’s not something that anyone else has, there’s no private companies that could afford to operate something like this. It’s fairly expensive to maintain but it’s unique in its capabilities. We can fly up to 14 hours, and that’s a long time, so we can cover lots of territory, go long distances, and then still have enough gas to come home again.

[wind & snow] [music] NARRATOR: Across North America, spring has sprung. As the mercury rises, the winter snow seems like ancient history. Not so for NASA's Operation IceBridge scientists, who continue to brave Arctic temperatures at Thule Air Base in northern Greenland. Since mid-March the IceBridge DC-8 aircraft has flown the equivalent of one-and-a-half times around the earth, logging more than 60,000 kilometers and one hundred flight hours. The purpose of IceBridge is to provide data about the earth's polar regions, allowing us to monitor change in ice cover. IceBridge scientists accomplish this by measuring the ice with a variety of instruments aboard the fully equipped DC-8 aircraft. A typical flight day for IceBridge begins at 6 a.m. The ground and maintenance crews meet at the hangar to power up the plane and ensure it is a successful eight hour flight. Once the DC-8 is towed out to the ramp, the IceBridge pilots and team of research scientists prepare for take-off. Throughout each flight, scienitsts manage seven state-of-the-art science instruments aboard the DC-8. Several instruments such as the Airborne Topographic Mapper, or ATM, utilize laser altimeter technology to measure the surface of the ice. Three radar instruments from University of Kansas measure the vertical profile of the snow and ice. The Ku-Band and Snow Radars measure the depth of snow and ice on and near the surface. The Multichannel Coherent Radar Depth Sounder, or MCoRDS, can penetrate the upper levels of snow and ice to reach the bedrock below, telling scientists the thickness of the ice. The Digital Mapping System, or DMS, is essentially two cameras mounted on the belly of the plane, capturing images every ten seconds while the plane is in flight. New to IceBridge and the DC-8 this year is Columbia University's Gravimeter. The Gravimeter can distinguish the difference in gravity between rock, water and ice to map what we cannot see. Finally, the Land, Vegetation and Ice Senor, referred to as LVIS, is best suited for high altitude work. From 30,000 feet and higher, LVIS scans a 2-km wide laser swath to provide a comprehensive map of surface characteristics. Perhaps the most impressive piece of equipment is the plane itself. DC-8 production was discontinued in the early 1970s but NASA continues to utilize it for a variety of earth science missions like IceBridge. This four-engine workhorse can fly at 40,000 feet for over 12 hours at a time. Though the aircraft was not originally designed for low altitude flying, it performs beautifully below 1500 feet for IceBridge instruments. After a long day of flying, ground crew meets the aircraft on the icy runway and prepares for another flight day. At the evening debrief, researchers and crew analyze the weather for the following day and prepare to do it all over again. IceBridge is nearing the halfway point of the Arctic 2010 campaign. Next week, the DC-8 will return Dryden Flight Research Center in California where it will remain until this fall when it resumes IceBridge flights over Antarctica. For the remainder of this campaign in Greenland, NASA's P-3B airplane will deploy from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia to Sondrestrom Air Base in southern Greenland. Science instruments aboard the P-3B will complete the remaining flights for this installment of IceBridge. [music]