NASA's Operation IceBridge Is Monitoring Ice Loss in Canada and Greenland

By Gizmodo UK on at

They're some of the most remote parts of the world, but they're slowly melting into the sea—and NASA is hoping to figure out a way to stop that from happening with Operation IceBridge, a six-year research project that involves a series of eight-hour research flights over the affected areas.

Photographer Mario Tama from Getty Images accompanied the researchers on these flights, taking photos of the snowy vistas below—and the results look far, far better than anything we've ever tried to capture from an airplane window.

(all images: Mario Tama, Getty Images)

A glacier on Ellesmere Island, Canada.


A section of an ice field in Ellesmere Island, Canada, seen from the window of the IceBridge research aircraft.

The flights over Canada and Greenland take place at specific times in the year, in the hopes that eventually, the team will be able to craft a 3D model of the areas. The latest flights, during which these photos were taken, took place at the end of March, and will continue through to May.


A patch of sea ice in Upper Baffin Bay, Canada.


A glacier in Baffin Bay, Canada.

The aircraft used in Operation IceBridge are fitted with special equipment designed to monitor, map and document the ice levels below, including laser altimeters to measure ice elevation, radars which measure ice depth, and gravimeters and magnetometers which are able to measure the depths that radar can't manage.

 These small objects are all glaciers, locked in a patch of sea ice in Baffin Bay, Canada.


A large iceberg is locked in by sea ice on both sides.


The IceBridge aircraft comes in to land at Thule air base.

The IceBridge project aims to increase awareness by inviting guests to join their research. Along with photographer Mario Tama, there have also been school teachers, television crews and personnel from the US Embassy.


Another view from Thule air base, this time showing the houses that stand nearby.


A snowshoe hare inspects the landscape near Thule air base.

 NASA scientist Nathan Kurtz takes the rare opportunity to inspect the icebergs from the ground.

The IceBridge project will continue to run until 2018, by which time the ICESat-2 satellite will have been launched, aiming to document much of the same data. IceBridge has already made some significant discoveries, including the world's longest canyon, the Greenland Grand Canyon, beneath the ice, and continues to closely monitor areas that are at significant risk, such as the Pine Island Glacier, the fastest melting glacier in Antarctica.

An ice field in Ellesmere Island, Canada.

An ice field in Ellesmere Island, Canada.

[NASA]