Posts Tagged ‘Arctic’

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NASA in Alaska 2014: MABEL readied to snap photos from above

July 15th, 2014 by Kate Ramsayer

Clouds blanketed much of MABEL’s potential flight routes over the Alaskan Arctic or southern glaciers on Monday, so the ER-2 aircraft stayed in the hangar at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska.

But the MABEL team was busy. They took advantage of a day on the ground by improving the instrument’s new camera. The goal is to take more images like the one below, to help scientists interpret the data from the airborne lidar instrument.

As the ER-2 aircraft traveled from Palmdale, California, to Fairbanks, Alaska, the camera on MABEL took this shot of wind turbines near Bakersfield, California. (Credit: NASA)

As the ER-2 aircraft traveled from Palmdale, California, to Fairbanks, Alaska, the camera on MABEL took this shot of wind turbines near Bakersfield, California. (Credit: NASA)

It’s the first week of the summer 2014 campaign for MABEL, or the Multiple Altimeter Beam Experimental Lidar, the ICESat-2 satellite’s airborne test instrument. MABEL measures the height of Earth below using lasers and photon-counting devices. This year, the team is using a new camera system to take snapshots of the land, ice and water in parallel with MABEL’s measurements.

The MABEL instrument is nestled snug in the nose cone of the high-altitude ER-2, which has a circular window in the base where the laser and the camera view the ground. To get access to MABEL and the camera, the crew propped up the nose and wheeled it away from the aircraft.

The ER-2 crew rolls the aircraft's nose -- containing MABEL -- away from its body, so engineers could work on the instrument. (Credit: Kate Ramsayer)

The ER-2 crew rolls the aircraft’s nose — containing MABEL — away from its body, so engineers could work on the instrument. (Credit: Kate Ramsayer/NASA)

The team then carefully slid the instrument out onto a cart, so that MABEL’s on-site engineer and programmer – Eugenia DeMarco and Dan Reed – could work on the camera and ensure the connections were sound.

MABEL engineer Eugenia DeMarco and programmer Dan Reed work on improving the new camera system for the instrument. (Credit: Kate Ramsayer/NASA)

MABEL engineer Eugenia DeMarco and programmer Dan Reed work on improving the new camera system for the instrument. (Credit: Kate Ramsayer/NASA)

When the camera was set to document the terrain from 65,000 feet, the team slid MABEL back to its spot and wheeled the aircraft’s nose back to the rest of its body. They connected the instrument to the plane’s electronics, sealed the plane back up, and are ready to go whenever the weather cooperates.

Luis Rios, with NASA's ER-2 crew, checks the connections between the MABEL instrument and the aircraft. (Credit: Kate Ramsayer/NASA)

Luis Rios, with NASA’s ER-2 crew, checks the connections between the MABEL instrument and the aircraft. (Credit: Kate Ramsayer/NASA)

 

NASA in Alaska 2014: NASA’s Alaska Forest Survey Kicks Off

July 14th, 2014 by Kathryn Hansen

From early July through mid-August 2014, scientist Doug Morton of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will be flying low over the treetops of interior Alaska. The purpose? First-of-a-kind look at the state’s forests with a portable, airborne imaging system called G-LiHT to map the composition, structure and function of the ecosystem.

According to Morton, key components of the fieldwork include:

“First, we are partnering with the U.S. Forest Service, as directed by the recently-passed Farm Bill, to incorporate remote sensing technology into forest monitoring efforts. Our pilot study will be the first inventory of forests in interior Alaska; a standard ground inventory (as in the lower 48) has always been too costly or logistically challenging to implement.

Second, we will study post-fire recovery, with plans to sample more than 80 percent of all fires in the Tanana region since 1950.  Fire is the major agent of change in interior Alaska, and understanding the patterns of forest recovery is essential to gauge the vulnerability/resilience of forests to future climate change.

Third, we will benchmark conditions (topography/permafrost, forest cover, forest composition) across a large portion of the Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) science domain.”

Follow Morton through the summer as, Internet connection permitting, he sends updates and photos from the field.

 

 

NASA in Alaska 2014: MABEL: Welcome to Fairbanks!

July 14th, 2014 by Kate Ramsayer

Very few people get to fly 65,000 feet above Alaska’s glaciers. And even fewer get to fly over ones they share a name with. But on Friday, as pilot Denis Steele flew NASA’s ER-2 aircraft from Palmdale, California, to Fairbanks, Alaska, he snapped a picture of the scenery below – including Steele Glacier in the southwestern corner of Canada’s Yukon territory.

From NASA's ER-2 aircraft, pilot Denis Steele saw glaciers in southern Alaska and Canada -- including the Steele Glacier, in the center of the image, and the Donjek Glacier (lower right). (Credit: Denis Steele)

From NASA’s ER-2 aircraft, pilot Denis Steele saw glaciers in southern Alaska and Canada — including the Steele Glacier, the horizontal feature in the center of the image, and the Donjek Glacier (lower right). (Credit: Denis Steele)

Steele and the ER-2 team, along with NASA scientists, engineers and others, are here in Fairbanks to fly a laser altimeter – MABEL, or Multiple Altimeter Beam Experimental Lidar – over melting summer sea ice, glaciers and more. It’s a campaign to see what these polar regions will look like with data from ICESat-2, once the satellite launches and starts collecting data about the height of Earth below. Gathering information now allows scientists to get a head start in developing the computer programs scientists will need to analyze ICESat-2’s raw data.

MABEL and other lidar instruments are flying on the ER-2, which provides a high-altitude perspective. In the next three weeks, the plan is to cover melting sea ice, glaciers, vegetation, lakes, and more.

Steele wasn’t the only one looking out of the plane windows on flights north. Kelly Brunt, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, spotted a wildfire in Eastern Washington. The fire, burning in steep terrain, resembled an erupting volcano.

A wildfire burns in Washington, just east of the Cascades. (Credit: Kelly Brunt)

A wildfire burns in Washington, just east of the Cascades. (Credit: Kelly Brunt)

Over the weekend, the team settled into Fairbanks and a hangar at the U.S. Army’s Fort Wainwright, downloading data from the transit flight and ensuring the instruments are ready to fly when the weather allows. Cloudy skies over key sites means the ER-2 won’t fly today (Monday), but the team will check the weather tonight and see if it clears enough to fly the first science flight on Tuesday.

Want to follow MABEL and the ER-2? Check back here, and also check NASA’s flight tracker: http://airbornescience.nasa.gov/tracker/

Yep, we're in Alaska! A moose along a road east of Fairbanks. I'll call her Mabel. (Credit: Kate Ramsayer)

Yep, we’re in Alaska! A moose along a road east of Fairbanks. I’ll call her Mabel. (Credit: Kate Ramsayer)

Greenland Aquifer Expedition: That’s All, Folks!!!

April 23rd, 2014 by Maria-Jose Viñas

By Ludovic Brucker

After an unexpected phone call from the helicopter pilot on Easter Sunday, Ludo and Clem ended the second season of the Greenland aquifer campaign, with the support of Susan, Rick, Lora, Bear, the weather office, and many others. Thanks all for this Easter bunny.

After an unexpected phone call from the helicopter pilot on Easter Sunday, Ludo and Clem ended the second season of the Greenland aquifer campaign, with the support of Susan, Rick, Lora, Bear, the weather office, and many others. Thanks all for this Easter bunny.

We still wonder whether our campaign was successful, or fair. For sure, it was a mix of good and tough times.

The pluses, making our campaign a good time:

- We’re back from our field site, healthy and with all our fingers and toes!

- We set up an almost perfect camp, limiting drift considerably.

- Our two tents survived 65-knot winds!

- We had saucisson (dry cured sausage), and cheese for fondue!

- No polar bear smelled our food!

- We collected over 17 miles (28 kilometers) of high-frequency (400 MHz) radar data, including 12 mi (20 km) in one day (equivalent to half a marathon!)

- Along a 1.24-mi (2-km) segment of the 2011 Arctic Circle Traverse, we deployed 5 radars operating at 400, 200, 40, 10, and 5 MHz.

- We installed an intelligent weather station developed by the group at IMAU, in the Netherlands.

- We drilled down to 28 feet (8.5 meters) to record the density and stratigraphy of the ice layers.

- We have GPS taken positions during a week, which will help us calculate the velocity and flow direction of the ice in this basin.

The minuses, making our campaign “different”:

- Ten days of weather delays before the put-in flight to our ice camp location.

- Rick could not make it to the field with us.

- We never had three consecutive half days with weather suitable for work.

- Getting a sore throat from shouting to hear each other less than a meter apart.

- During the one day of great weather, we tried to drive down a pilot tube to install a piezometer in the aquifer. This technique is adapted for ground water found within rocky soils. It was the first attempt to do it in the Greenland firn. Driving the metal pipes in the snow through the ice layers was a nightmare, we had to pound on those pipes really hard to make them go through the thick ice layers and we ended up breaking them. At one point, we thought it was broken slightly deeper than 6 ft below the surface, so we dug a pit down to fix it. Well, it turned out that the broken piece was actually 13 ft down — we spent the only full day of great weather breaking our equipment.

- We ran out of cheese for fondue, and of saucisson.

- Sunscreen was completely useless this season.

The “funny” stuff:

- 30 m/s wind is brutal, though not necessarily hilarious.

- High-wind speed does not make the clock spin faster, only the anemometer.

- Supporting text messages and jokes from our family, colleagues, and office mates.

- Attempting a radar survey with a sled taking off every other gusts.

- Calling the Met Office for a weather forecast: “Hello! Since it’s windy here we are wondering what will happen in the next 36 hours.” “Yes, I can confirm that you are experiencing wind.” “Thanks so much for the confirmation, but there was no room for doubt.” “Oh, but it’s a nice spike on the computer screen! It won’t blow more, but it won’t stop soon. Be careful out there”. Patience with Mother Nature is the #1 fundamental.

- Coastal storms from the East might be our favorite storms on the ice sheet: wind stops, and temperatures increase, but it snows, snows, and snows.

- Sixteen feet of seasonal snow is deep, especially with the top 2 feet of fresh snow becoming harder and harder as they it gets compacted by the wind.

- Excavating 1765 cubic feet of snow between 8pm and 11:30pm (you got to use the weather window whenever you have it.)

- The frost all around our sleeping-bag head every morning.

- The 40 hours laying down in the sleeping bag.

- The melody of the wind on our tents and through the bamboo sticks we stuck around them.

- Using the sleeping bag to store hats, balaclavas, gloves, socks, boot insulation, contact lenses, tooth paste, sun screen (it was nice to dream about the day we would need it), batteries, head lamp, snacks, water bottles (ideally liquid and not spilling.)

- The pilot phone call at 8 am on Easter Sunday: “Good morning, happy Easter! Don’t go for a ski strip today, we will come pick you up in 3-4 hours!”

This was the synopsis of our 13-day adventure on the ice sheet. Even though we have been pulled out from the ice sheet, we still have some work to do, such as cleaning and drying our cargo and repackaging it for shipping to either Kanger, or the US.

Now, we would like you to enjoy some photos taken in the field. Thanks again for spending some times reading the blog and following us! Until the next campaign, enjoy each season and stay warm! As we say in French: “En Mai, fait ce qu’il te plaît!” In English, it translates to something like: “In May, do as you please!”. Yup, we’re heading back to the office and will hide behind a computer screen for the months to come.

All the best,

Ludo & Clem

(Left) As weather-delay days continue to keep us in town, Rick calls the weather office to assess whether we can afford to spend more days waiting to be deployed on the ice sheet. (Right) The saddest moment of our campaign, when Rick had to remove his gear from our cargo because he wasn’t coming with us to the field.

(Left) As weather-delay days continue to keep us in town, Rick calls the weather office to assess whether we can afford to spend more days waiting to be deployed on the ice sheet. (Right) The saddest moment of our campaign, when Rick had to remove his gear from our cargo because he wasn’t coming with us to the field.

(Left) At the Tasiilaq heliport, Ludo waits for our put-in flight on the cargo. (Right) The Air Greenland B-212 helicopter with blue skies and high clouds. After 12 days of patiently waiting, it looks like it’s a go!

(Left) At the Tasiilaq heliport, Ludo waits for our put-in flight on the cargo. (Right) The Air Greenland B-212 helicopter with blue skies and high clouds. After 12 days of patiently waiting, it looks like it’s a go!

Flying over the sea-ice covered Sermilik fjord to reach the ice sheet.

Flying over the sea-ice covered Sermilik fjord to reach the ice sheet.

Getting closer to the ice sheet, flying over crevassed tributary glaciers.

Getting closer to the ice sheet, flying over crevassed tributary glaciers.

(Left) Our cargo, dropped almost two weeks ago, got buried under 2 feet of snow. But all the pieces were there! (Right) The B-212 landed near our cargo for a final move to the ice camp location.

(Left) Our cargo, dropped almost two weeks ago, got buried under 2 feet of snow. But all the pieces were there! (Right) The B-212 landed near our cargo for a final move to the ice camp location.

Approaching our camp site.

Approaching our camp site.

Minutes after the B-212 had left Clem and me on the ice sheet, we were already shoveling the fresh snow to install our cooking and sleeping tents before dark. This was no time for play, this was no time for fun, there was work to be done.

Minutes after the B-212 had left Clem and me on the ice sheet, we were already shoveling the fresh snow to install our cooking and sleeping tents before dark. This was no time for play, this was no time for fun, there was work to be done.

Our first pretty sunset in Greenland. In one month, we saw two of them.

Our first pretty sunset in Greenland. In one month, we saw two of them.

Early morning selfie! Not fully ready yet to put our cold weather gear on.

Early morning selfie! Not fully ready yet to put our cold weather gear on.

Shoveling, a typical activity at camp. Luckily this year we did not have to shovel too much to maintain our tents.

Shoveling, a typical activity at camp. Luckily this year we did not have to shovel too much to maintain our tents.

With the amount of fresh snow and the katabatic winds increasing, snow dunes were forming perpendicular to the direction of the wind -- it was like being at sea! Half a day later, sastrugis developed along the wind direction and snow became hard and compact.

With the amount of fresh snow and the katabatic winds increasing, snow dunes were forming perpendicular to the direction of the wind — it was like being at sea! Half a day later, sastrugis developed along the wind direction and snow became hard and compact.

A snow drift blocking the door of the kitchen tent.

A snow drift blocking the door of the kitchen tent.

The IMAU intelligent Weather Station, installed in its snow pit before we refilled it.

The IMAU intelligent Weather Station, installed in its snow pit before we refilled it.

Ludo inside a 2-m-deep pit dug with the hope to repair a broken pilot pipe for installing a pressure transducer in the aquifer.

Ludo inside a 2-m-deep pit dug with the hope to repair a broken pilot pipe for installing a pressure transducer in the aquifer.

Ludo, inside a larger 2-meter-deep pit dug after dinner with easterly winds increasing as another coastal storm was coming bringing more snow. Our rationale was that the sooner we dug, the less snow we’d have to remove.

Ludo, inside a larger 2-meter-deep pit dug after dinner with easterly winds increasing as another coastal storm was coming bringing more snow. Our rationale was that the sooner we dug, the less snow we’d have to remove.

Two hours before being pulled out from the field, Clem was dragging the 200 MHz radar, and carrying a GPS unit.

Two hours before being pulled out from the field, Clem was dragging the 200 MHz radar, and carrying a GPS unit.

(Left) Snow accumulated on our tent entrance overnight. We monitored it carefully every half hours from 2 am to the late evening. We took care of it a couple of times! (Middle) Clem calling the weather service to find out what wind speeds would hit us during the night. (Right) Our last saucisson, hanging over the snow/water pot.

(Left) Snow accumulated on our tent entrance overnight. We monitored it carefully every half hours from 2 am to the late evening. We took care of it a couple of times! (Middle) Clem calling the weather service to find out what wind speeds would hit us during the night. (Right) Our last saucisson, hanging over the snow/water pot.

Clem uses an evening break in the weather to drag a low-frequency radar in the fresh snow deposited in the previous hours.

Clem uses an evening break in the weather to drag a low-frequency radar in the fresh snow deposited in the previous hours.

Clem dragging the 400 MHz radar over the sastrugis, a challenging surface to work with.

Clem dragging the 400 MHz radar over the sastrugis, a challenging surface to work with.

Weather was clement enough with Clément to allow him for a pit stop during our half-marathon radar day around camp.

Weather was clement enough with Clément to allow him for a pit stop during our half-marathon radar day around camp.

A new day, different weather, and another attempt to collect more radar data. Since we aim at collecting surface-based radar data, not airborne radar data, we quickly had to stop because the wind would make the radar system take off with every other gust.

A new day, different weather, and another attempt to collect more radar data. Since we aimed at collecting surface-based radar data, not airborne radar data, we quickly had to stop because the wind would make the radar system take off with every other gust.

Pictures taken just one hour apart. In the top one, we were setting up a radar system. In the bottom one, we were actively wrapping it due to sudden katabatic winds that picked up in less than 10 minutes.

Pictures taken just one hour apart. In the top one, we were setting up a radar system. In the bottom one, we were actively wrapping it due to sudden katabatic winds that picked up in less than 10 minutes.

Indoor activities while the winds prevented us from working. (Left) Playing domino with mitts in a shaking tent, unforgettable times! (Right) Good food to keep us happy. Merci maman for thinking about us before leaving home.

Indoor activities while the winds prevented us from working. (Left) Playing domino with mitts in a shaking tent, unforgettable times! (Right) Good food to keep us happy. Merci maman for thinking about us before leaving home.

Our flight back had already been canceled twice. It turned out that this was our last evening at camp. We had a total of two pretty sunsets: one on the first day and the second 12 days later, on our last evening.

Our flight back had already been canceled twice. It turned out that this was our last evening at camp. We had a total of two pretty sunsets: one on the first day and the second 12 days later, on our last evening.

Our bags, ready for a surprise pull-out flight! Happy Easter!

Our bags, ready for a surprise pull-out flight! Happy Easter!

A great moment: the landing of the B-212. We were being pulled out!

A great moment: the landing of the B-212. We were being pulled out!

The crew and Ludo finish up loading the B-212.

The crew and Ludo finish up loading the B-212.

Last view of the ice sheet and glaciers.

Last view of the ice sheet and glaciers.

Forty minutes after leaving our camp, we see signs of life: a view of Tasiilaq (top) and Kulusuk (bottom), minutes before landing.

Forty minutes after leaving our camp, we see signs of life: a view of Tasiilaq (top) and Kulusuk (bottom), minutes before landing.

We’d like to finish with this quote from the French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot, who led the second French expedition in Antarctica around 1910:

“D’où vient l’étrange attirance de ces régions polaires, si puissantes, si tenaces, qu’après en être revenu ou oublie les fatigues, morales et physiques, pour ne songer qu’à retourner vers elles? D’où vient le charme inouï de ces contrées pourtant désertes et terrifiantes?” (“Where does the strange attraction of the polar regions come from, so powerful, so stubborn, that after returning from them we forget the fatigue, moral and physical, only to think of returning there? Where does the incredible charm of these lands come from, however deserted and terrifying?”) Jean-Baptiste Charcot, Le Pourquoi Pas?

Greenland Aquifer Expedition: On The Ice Sheet!

April 18th, 2014 by Maria-Jose Viñas

By Rick Forster

Our team finally made it to the ice sheet on April 8, after being delayed for almost two weeks due a series of storms. That day, we awoke to patches of blue sky over the village of Tasiilaq and were eager to get to the heliport for our scheduled 11:40 AM flight to the ice sheet. Lingering clouds over the ice sheet delayed our departure about three hours.

The village of Tasiilaq on the day of our flight to the ice sheet in SE Greenland where the Air Greenland B-212 helicopter is based.  (Credit: Rick Foster.)

The village of Tasiilaq on the day of our flight to the ice sheet in SE Greenland where the Air Greenland B-212 helicopter is based. (Credit: Rick Forster.)

Once we saw the Air Greenland helicopter returning from its last trip to the local settlements for the day, we knew our flight was next. The trip to our research site on the ice sheet takes about 30 minutes.

The Air Greenland B-212 helicopter landing in Tasiilaq. (credit: Rick Forster.)

The Air Greenland B-212 helicopter landing in Tasiilaq. (credit: Rick Forster.)

The two-week weather delay meant I had to return to the University of Utah while Clem and Ludo would stay on the ice sheet for about 10 days to gather data and perform experiments on the Greenland aquifer. It was a hard decision to make, but I had commitments and if I stayed with the team on the ice sheet, we would all have to leave before all the science could be completed. Ludo and Clem’s schedules were more flexible so they will be able to extend their trip to spend extra time on the ice. I went with the team to the ice sheet to help unload the camp gear from the helicopter at the research site.

From left to right: Clément Miège, Ludovic Brucker, and Rick Forster happy to be finally boarding the helicopter for the flight to the ice sheet. (Credit: Rick Forster.)

From left to right: Clément Miège, Ludovic Brucker, and Rick Forster happy to be finally boarding the helicopter for the flight to the ice sheet. (Credit: Rick Forster.)

The flight to the site was spectacular, going over sea ice chocked fjords and outlet glaciers draining the ice sheet.

An outlet glacier draining the Greenland ice sheet into an ice covered fjord. The individual rough blocks of ice within the smooth surface of the frozen fjord are icebergs that calved off the glacier last summer and are now trapped in the winter fjord ice. (Credit: Rick Forster.)

An outlet glacier draining the Greenland ice sheet into an ice covered fjord. The individual rough blocks of ice within the smooth surface of the frozen fjord are icebergs that calved off the glacier last summer and are now trapped in the winter fjord ice. (Credit: Rick Forster.)

Once at the research site, our team, including the pilot and flight engineer, quickly unloaded the cargo from the helicopter. The heaviest gear could be left closer to the helicopter, while the lighter pieces needed to be dragged farther away and held down by Ludo and Clem to keep them from being blown away from the winds generated by the helicopter taking off. The ice sheet surface was smooth and soft with knee-deep powder, great for skiing but not so good for moving cargo and setting up camp.

Clem, Ludo, and the science and camp cargo waiting for the helicopter to take off. (Credit: Rick Forster.)

Clem, Ludo, and the science and camp cargo waiting for the helicopter to take off. (Credit: Rick Forster.)

Clem and Ludo will spend the next week and half gathering additional data on the Greenland aquifer from a variety of ice penetrating radar systems and installing an automated weather station for our colleagues at Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht.

Notes from the Field