NASA Operation IceBridge (OIB) is an airborne science mission which launched in 2009 to bridge the gap between ICESat-1 (2003-2008) and ICESat-2 (launched in late 2018). OIB operates on various airborne platforms (NASA DC-8, NASA P-3, NASA Falcon, Twin Otter, Helicopter AS 350, etc.) in Greenland and Antarctica. OIB includes a suite of instruments that include laser altimetry (GSFC LVIS system and Wallops ATM system), deep radar sounding (CRESIS), a snow accumulation radar (CRESIS), digital stereo imagery (NASA DMS) and airborne gravity (Sander Geophysics Ltd. AIRGrav). The mission documents the patterns of thinning and acceleration of key outlet glaciers and collects critical data on glacier thickness and depth of the sea floor in front of the glaciers or beneath their floating extension so that ice sheet and ocean modelers can better constrain their models. These data, collected in most remote and unsurveyed parts of the plane, will pave the way for improving and evaluation of realistic models of ice sheet/ocean evolution, which, in turn, will provide more realistic predictions of the future contribution of ice sheets to sea level rise.
Eric Rignot, Professor of Earth System Science at UC Irvine, has been involved in this project since 2009 as a Science Team member and since 2013 as the Land Ice Science Team Lead until 2020. Professor Rignot uses OIB data to constrain ice sheet fluxes at the grounding line (including the effect of glacier thinning), provide guidance on areas of importance and of rapid change, infer ice shelf bathymetry using gravity, and contribute to the generation of level 4 products such as BedMachine Greenland and BedMachine Antarctica which regroup all existing data to reconstruct bed topography on land and bathymetry at sea in a seamless fashion and at the highest possible spatial resolution (300 m on land, 5 km beneath ice shelves) for usage in ice-ocean models. Rignot’s research group at UC Irvine has processed the first comprehensive map of ice motion in Antarctica for NASA. Morlighem’s research group at UC Irvine process the first complete BedMachine of Greenland at a high resolution together with bathymetry data.
OIB operates with a flight team that includes engineers, flight planners, instrument specialists who are doing an amazing job, flying missions 10-12 hours long, 3-4 days in a row, adapting their mission selection to weather, and usually completing 100% of the planned missions.