Science and Technology News

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

IceBridge: Flight over the Navy Ice Camp

By Julie Weckerlein

Lt. Cmdr. John Woods is a Meteorology and Oceanography Officer (METOC) currently teaching in the Oceanography Department at the United States Naval Academy (USNA). He is part of the Sea Ice Thickness Observation team currently participating in NASA’s Operation IceBridge 2011(OIB 2011).

This was the flight I had been waiting for. Back in 2009, I traveled with two U.S. Navy midshipmen to the Applied Physics Laboratory Ice Station (APLIS) to participate in ICEX09, a submarine force exercise conducted by the Arctic Submarine Laboratory. We stayed on the ice for three days and two nights, and experienced the extreme conditions of the Arctic environment first hand. We also observed submarine operations, including the surfacing of the USS ANNAPOLIS through the ice. This year, coordination to participate in the camp again did not work out, but I was grateful to get to participate in the NASA IceBridge mission and fly over the camp.

It is nice to get a different perspective of the environment from above. Jackie Richter-Menge, the IceBridge Science Team Sea Ice Lead, was down on the ice with her team setting up a survey line of different types of instruments measuring the sea ice properties. The NASA P-3 was to fly over the survey line and collect data to be compared to the measurements collected below.

We departed Fairbanks Airport at 7 a.m., and began the 90-minute flight north. The camp is located approximately 200 miles off the northern coast of Alaska on the frozen Beaufort Sea. We were in constant communication with the camp relaying their current positions to assist the pilots to navigate to the camp. Once the camp was in sight we began our survey. Flying over the camp at approximately 1000 feet, we could see Jackie’s team on the ice below, waving up at us. They looked like ants even from this “reasonably low” altitude.

We flew over the camp over 10 times for close to two hours.  Each pass, we had to correct for the camps drift.  The camp was moving at approximately 300 meters per hour, so the survey line was constantly shifting.  It is amazing to think that the frozen ocean is moving at that fast of a pace.  The camp itself consists of only a handful of structures.  If you would like more information on the camp, they have their own blog.

After about two hours of flying in ovals over the camp and collecting  hours of data, we headed back to Fairbanks.  This was my final flight during IceBridge 2011.  In total, I flew for close to 40 hours on five different flights, covering nearly 10,000 miles.

It was a great experience and I want to thank everyone involved in the mission for allowing Midshipman Brugler and myself this wonderful opportunity.

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