Operation IceBridge Antarctica


Now archived! PolarConnect event with Maggie Kane from Punta Arenas, Chile and Project Manager John Woods from Antarctica. You can access this and other events on the PolarConnect Archives site: https://www.polartrec.com/polar-connect/archive

What Are They Doing?

NASA's P-3 Orion aircraft. Photo by Mark Buesing.NASA's P-3 Orion aircraft. Photo by Mark Buesing. IceBridge, a six-year NASA mission, is the largest airborne survey of Earth's polar ice ever conducted. IceBridge uses a highly specialized fleet of research aircraft and the most sophisticated science instruments ever assembled to characterize yearly changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctic. The research team will experience first-hand the excitement of flying a large research aircraft over the Greenland Ice Sheet. While in the air they will record data on the thickness, depth, and movement of ice features, resulting in an unprecedented three-dimensional view of ice sheets, ice shelves, and sea ice. Operation IceBridge began in 2009 to bridge the gap in data collection after NASA's ICESat satellite stopped functioning and when the ICESat-2 satellite becomes operational in 2016, making IceBridge critical for ensuring a continuous series of observations of polar ice. IceBridge flies over the Arctic and Antarctic every year — in the Arctic from March to May and the Antarctic in October and November. By comparing the year-to-year readings of ice thickness and movement both on land and on the sea, scientists can look at the behavior of the rapidly changing features of the polar ice and learn more about the trends that could affect sea-level rise and climate around the globe. More information about IceBridge can be found at the NASA project website. http://www.nasa.gov/icebridge

Where Are They?

Punta Arenas, Chile. Photo by Amber Lancaster.Punta Arenas, Chile. Photo by Amber Lancaster. Punta Arenas is a city near the tip of Chile's southernmost Patagonia region. Located on the Strait of Magellan, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, it's often used as base for excursions to the surrounding wilderness and Antarctica. The Plaza Muñoz Gamero has a memorial to explorer Ferdinand Magellan, and the Museo Nao Victoria features a replica of one of his galleons. The research team will be based out of a local hotel in downtown Punta Arenas, and the plane will be based out of the International Airport.

Expedition Map


Lastarria District
Santiago Talks After such wonderful field work airborne over Antarctica with the team, I had loads to share with students and teachers, and fortunately I had several talks set up. After saying "ciao" to the windy Straits of Magellan and Punta Arenas, I headed to the hot, smoggy, bustling and stylish city of Santiago. I enjoyed the narrow streets, outdoor music and beautiful buildings of this very busy city (my taxi driver told me there are 8 million people in the surrounding area!) and prepared for my presentations. The beautiful town of Punta Arenas along the windy Straits of Magellan....
OIB Crew
Nearing The End Nearing the end of my time with the NASA team made me want to spend as much time in flight as I possibly could, so lucky for me, we had a few flights ahead of us and good weather forecasted. With only a few high priority flights left on the list, the team was feeling really proud of their accomplishments and less anxious about getting the job done. As we set plans for our second trip to the South Pole, I felt grateful for the long flight ahead which would give me time with the amazing people on board, the scenery of Antarctica and a last chance to ask some questions. The...
6th Grade Flags
Ice Shelves vs. Ice Sheets vs. Ice Tongue vs. Marine Ice Ice shelves are found in polar regions, at the edges of ice sheets. They occur as land based ice sheets meet the ocean waters and float out away from the land. It might be hard to imagine such massive objects floating, but like any ice, their density is slightly less than water. Fresh water is also slightly less dense than salt water, as there is less "stuff" (in this case salt) to increase the density of sea water. Sea ice is frozen sea water while ice from ice shelves or tongues is "new" to the ocean system. Since ice...
Larsen Ice Shelf
Calving of the Larsen Ice Shelf The Larsen Sea The Larson Sea is the site of the calving event 15 years ago that broke off the Larsen B ice shelf, sending it towards its demise to the north. This event got a lot of news coverage so you might remember seeing an image of it. Now, the area is a partially refrozen jumble of icebergs and sea ice. Image showing the Larsen Ice Shelves (Figure NSIDC) Along the eastern shore of the north end of the Antarctic Peninsula, Larsen A, B and C were three massive ice shelf pieces, buttressed to the land through pinned point contact with bedrock. As...
Icebergs vs. sea ice
To The Divide! After a down day for some repairs to the Airborne Topographic Mapper and staying on the ground to avoid some strong cross winds, our mission today was to measure the ice near the West Antarctic Ice Sheet divide, known as WAIS Divide. A divide is a topographic high that separates two drainages or drainage basins; the Continental Divide in the US separates the drainages to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In Antarctica, the divide separates two glaciers that flow toward different seas. The ice surface at the divide has interesting perpendicular lines that could be wind...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

Dates: 23 October 2016 to 18 November 2016
Location: Punta Arenas, Chile and airborne over Antarctica
Project Funded Title: NASA Operation IceBridge

Meet the Team

Maggie Kane's picture
Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning
Denver, CO
United States

Maggie Kane is fascinated by snow and ice, studying climate science since 1985 when she ventured to Baffin Island to study the chronology of debris flow events. Graduating from Hampshire College with a degree in geology, and earning teaching credentials from Prescott College, Maggie started 15 years of teaching middle school Earth and space science. Maggie joined the TREC program studying climate change in Svalbard in 2006, and received her MS from Montana State University in 2010. Maggie chose to become an instructional coach and academic dean at high elevation Lake County High School in Leadville, CO where she works with teachers and students in the 7th and 8th grades developing strong instructional practices as a new Expeditionary Learning school. A NOAA Climate Steward and enthusiastic collaborator with polar scientists, Maggie has won numerous local and regional awards as well as placing 3rd in the national Thomas Edison Award for Innovation in the Science Classroom.

John Woods's picture
SGT Inc., NASA Operation IceBridge, GSFC
Greenbelt, MD
United States

John Woods is currently NASA’s Operation IceBridge (OIB) project manager. OIB utilizes a highly specialized fleet of research aircraft and the most sophisticated suite of innovative science instruments ever assembled to characterize annual changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets. Prior to working with NASA, John served on Active Duty in the Navy for 14 years as a Meteorology and Oceanography Officer. His tours included the National/Naval Ice Center and United States Naval Academy. John completed his master’s degree in Operational Meteorology and Physical Oceanography at the Naval Postgraduate School and bachelor’s degree in Oceanography at the United States Naval Academy.

Having deployed to the Polar Regions over 6 times, John has spent time in Alaska, Greenland, and the Southern tip of Chile for IceBridge missions. Education and Outreach has always been a passion, and introducing science of the cryosphere has always been a priority. John looks forward to working closely with PolarTREC educators in fulfilling this mission.

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Latest Comments

These are great pictures! I really appreciate this recap of your trip. I can imagine how exciting it must be to fly over the South Pole!
These are great pictures! I really appreciate this recap of your trip. I can imagine how exciting it must be to fly over the South Pole!
Hi Lucy, we get this question from time to time and it is a good one. The plane is on a very special and important mission, filled with lots of sophisticated instruments designed and built by some of...
Hi Eli! The plane was actually pretty darn comfy! It was kept reasonably warm and the seats were wide. It is an older plane, but the seats were pretty comfy. The hardest part was not moving much so...
Hi Elle! GREAT question! The data takes a little while to get to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, CO, where it them becomes public data for ANYONE to use. We will take a look at some...