Airborne Survey of Polar Ice


Archived PolarConnect Event
On 23 April 2012 Tim Spuck connected with over 200 students while working on his project in Greenland. You can check out this event archive and many more by visiting the PolarConnect Archives

Check out NASA's story about Operation IceBridge here!

What Are They Doing?

The cockpit of a NASA aircraftThe cockpit of a NASA aircraft IceBridge, a six-year NASA mission, is the largest airborne survey of Earth's polar ice ever conducted. The research team experienced first-hand the excitement of flying a large research aircraft over the Greenland Ice Sheet. While in the air they recorded data on the thickness, depth, and movement of ice features, resulting in an unprecedented three-dimensional view of Arctic ice sheets, ice shelves, and sea ice.

Operation IceBridge began in 2009 to bridge the gap in data collection after NASA's ICESat-1 satellite stopped functioning and when the ICESat-2 satellite becomes operational in 2016, making IceBridge critical for ensuring a continuous series of observations in the Arctic. IceBridge flies over these regions to map Arctic areas once a year. By comparing the year-to-year readings of ice thickness and movement both on land and on the sea, scientists can take a yearly look at the behavior of the rapidly changing features of the Greenland ice and learn more about the trends that could affect sea-level rise and climate change around the globe.

Where Are They?

Flying over the Midgard Glacier in GreenlandFlying over the Midgard Glacier in Greenland The field campaign for Operation Ice Bridge was based out of Kangerlussuaq in western Greenland. Once used as an American military base, the settlement is now Greenland's main air transport hub and the site of Greenland's largest commercial airport. The climate in Kangerlussuaq is arctic, with temperatures ranging from -25 to 18 degrees Celsius throughout the year.

Expedition Map


I’m back here in Washington DC completing my Einstein Fellowship, but continue to reflect on my experience in Greenland. My time in Greenland went by quickly, so I will continue to post journals about the IceBridge project in the coming weeks. I’m currently working on a series titled “The People of IceBridge”. The upcoming journal series will look at the various instruments on board the P-3 Aircraft and the people that make it all work. In my final days in Greenland I had the opportunity to interview many of the people involved with the project, and these video interviews will be part of...
My teacher colleagues from Denmark and Greenland headed home this morning, and I was disappointed to see them go. It’s been interesting learning about schools here in Greenland as well as those in Denmark. Here in Greenland for example many students live in remote parts of the country. The total population of Greenland is less than 60,000 people. There are very few roads and no roads between the major towns. In the winter you can travel by snow machine or sled dog, and in the summer by boat if the community is accessible via water. Other than that you need to fly, and flying in...
Image from the Helheim Glacier run this afternoon. Helheim in Danish means home of death. I'm sure it earned its name from the fate many met as they tried to navigate the waters in the region. Another great day with lots of new experiences on the NASA IceBridge flight. I was invited by the flight crew to join the pilots in the cockpit for takeoff, and of course I jumped at the opportunity. As a young child I wanted to fly more than anything except going to space. There’s just something about being in the air and taking it all in … seeing the big picture. As a kid I experimented with...
I only have a few minutes. We had to return early from our flight today due to an abnormal noise on the aircraft. The issue has been resolved and we are back out in 30 minutes. But here is a video from my flight yesterday. Can you recognize ant of the glacier features? More to come! View during my flight on Monday in southeast Greenland
As I write, we’re about 15 minutes away from landing after completing an 8 hour mission in southeast Greenland. I keep running the day’s images through my mind. I’ve seen so much today that I’ve never seen before, and for that matter I’ve seen things today that few people ever have. I’ve seen parts of our planet that I’m quite certain humans have never traversed. I’m flying again early tomorrow morning. More about this tomorrow evening! For now I wanted to share a bit more with you about Russell Glacier. The internet is rather slow here but I've managed to upload a video so that you...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

11 April 2012 to 26 April 2012
Location: Greenland
Project Funded Title: NASA Operation IceBridge

Meet the Team

Tim Spuck's picture
Oil City Area High School
Oil City, PA
United States

Tim Spuck teaches Earth & Space Sciences at Oil City Area Sr. High School in Oil City, PA, and has served as the District’s K-12 Science Department Chair. Recently he completed an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship with the National Science Foundation’s Division of Graduate Education's GK-12 STEM Fellows Program. Over the years he has also taught courses at the undergraduate level, lead many teacher training programs throughout the US and abroad, and is currently pursuing his D. Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction at West Virginia University. For the past 20 years Tim has worked to engage his students in authentic science research, and those students have been recognized throughout the scientific community for their discoveries and contributions to astronomy. Tim’s contributions in education have been recognized through numerous awards including the Einstein Fellowship, American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics Educator Achievement Award, Tandy Technology Scholars Award, the Pennsylvania Christa McAuliffe Fellowship, and the Kevin Burns Outstanding Science Teacher Award. Although his primary focus over the past 20 years has been astronomy education and the development and support of partnerships between STEM researchers and educators, he maintains a strong interest in a wide variety of STEM areas.

Michael Studinger's picture
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, MD
United States

Michael Studinger is the Project Scientist for NASA's Operation IceBridge. He received a PhD in Geophysics from the University of Bremen and the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Germany, in 1998. He has been a research scientist for over a decade at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York. In 2010, he joined the Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Michael's research interests include physical processes in polar regions linking subglacial environments, ice sheet dynamics, and life in extreme environments, such as subglacial lakes. He is using integrated sets of aerogeophysical data, including gravity, magnetics, ice-penetrating radar, and laser altimeter measurements, to answer key questions in glaciology. His main research projects focus on the role of subglacial environments in a global framework.