Meltwater Channels on Ellesmere Island

Meltwater Channels on Ellesmere Island
Meltwater Channels on Ellesmere Island

In March 2017, NASA’s Operation IceBridge returned to the Arctic. Now in its ninth year making flights over Earth’s northern polar regions, the mission continues to conduct important surveys of ice and snow. It also continues to turn out some spectacular photographs.

These photos were captured on March 29, 2017, during a flight over Ellesmere Island—the northernmost island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. The goal that day was to collect data over the northern Ellesmere ice field and the major glaciers draining it. Ice masses in the Canadian Arctic have been shrinking as the climate warms.

The first image was acquired by the Digital Mapping System (DMS). This high-resolution digital camera, installed on the belly of the P-3 Orion research plane, points straight down and takes overlapping images throughout a flight. The images provide a visual reference to help researchers better understand the data collected by other instruments. This image shows sinuous melt channels on the DeVries Glacier.

The second photo was captured with a handheld digital camera by Jeremy Harbeck, a sea ice scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. This image shows a detailed view of meltwater channels on the same glacier. From the vantage point of the aircraft, however, the channels contained no discernable melt.

“This is likely a meltwater channel left over from last year’s melt, and is simply not covered in snow,” Harbeck said. He recalls seeing a number of exposed meltwater channels during the previous year on the DeVries Glacier, and also on other glaciers throughout Ellesmere and northern Greenland. “This one was the most sinuous I could remember.”

Flights for the spring 2017 campaign began on March 9 and are scheduled to continue through May 12. The flight plans are more expansive than in years past, operating out of bases in northwest and southwest Greenland, Alaska and, for the first time, Svalbard.

IceBridge DMS imagery by NASA/Dennis Gearhart, courtesy of the Digital Mapping System (DMS) team. Photograph by NASA Goddard/Jeremy Harbeck. Story by Kathryn Hansen.

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