Friday, October 30, 2009

NASA tracks polar ice by plane

Sometimes it seems that most people only care about the melting ice at the North Pole because, of course, there's the prospect of oil. But NASA hasn't forgotten about the South Pole, and despite losing a critical satellite, has started the Ice Bridge mission to make sure it keeps abreast of how Antarctic ice changes. Interestingly, the article mentions that Antarctic ice is less studied than Greenland's ice - even though Antarctica is much bigger. Its bigger size and miles-deep land ice sheets could result in rising sea levels as global temperature heats up.

Mission Ice Bridge will use a DC-8 plane that is perhaps less fancy than the ICESat satellite it will replace, but some scientists argue it has just as much ability to take useful measurements. The DC-8 missions have already helped scientists get information on Pine Island, an Antarctic island whose glacier is melting into the ocean.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the article was a scientist's description of the differences between land and sea ice:

"Sea ice is like the ice cube that's already floating in a glass of water, he says. As it melts, it doesn't raise the water level.

But land ice is like the ice in your freezer Martin says. When you add a new cube to your glass, the water level rises.

And the glaciers of Antarctica represent a very large ice cube."

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