Operation IceBridge Arctic


Now Archived: PolarConnect Event with teacher Kelly McCarthy and the Operation IceBridge Team from Thule Air Base, Greenland. You can access the PDF of this event by visiting the PolarConnect Archives.


What Are They Doing?

Glacial ice surrounds a mountain in Greenland. Photo by Russell Hood.Glacial ice surrounds a mountain in Greenland. Photo by Russell Hood. IceBridge, a six-year NASA mission, is the largest airborne survey of Earth's polar ice ever conducted. IceBridge uses a highly specialized fleet of research aircraft and the most sophisticated science instruments ever assembled to characterize yearly changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctic. The research team is experiencing first-hand the excitement of flying a large research aircraft over the Greenland Ice Sheet. While in the air they are recording data on the thickness, depth, and movement of ice features, resulting in an unprecedented three-dimensional view of ice sheets, ice shelves, and sea ice. Operation IceBridge began in 2009 to bridge the gap in data collection after NASA's ICESat satellite stopped functioning and when the ICESat-2 satellite becomes operational later in 2016, making IceBridge critical for ensuring a continuous series of observations of polar ice. IceBridge flies over the Arctic and Antarctic every year — in the Arctic from March to May and the Antarctic in October and November. By comparing the year-to-year readings of ice thickness and movement both on land and on the sea, scientists can look at the behavior of the rapidly changing features of the polar ice and learn more about the trends that could affect sea-level rise and climate around the globe. More information about IceBridge can be found at the NASA project website. http://www.nasa.gov/icebridge

Where Are They?

NASA's P-3 Orion for Operation IceBridge. Photo by Russell Hood.NASA's P-3 Orion for Operation IceBridge. Photo by Russell Hood. The field campaign for Operation IceBridge is based out of Kangerlussuaq in western Greenland, and Thule Air Force Base in northwest Greenland. Kangerlussuaq was 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, and Thule is a fully operational U.S. Air Force Base, run by the Danish company Greenland Contractors. The climate in Kangerlussuaq and Thule is arctic, with temperatures ranging from -25 to 18 degrees Celsius throughout the year. Russell Glacier highlights some of the natural beauty that can be reached out of Kangerlussuaq, while Thule has lots of historical cold war Air Force sites included missile silos and ice field bases. The research team is living in the Kangerlussuaq International Science Support Building (KISS) and the Air Force Inn in Thule.

Expedition Map


C-17 Ride Home
Back in the Coal Region after a whirlwind trip home, a beautiful graduation ceremony, and a full day back at school behind me, I sit with a grateful heart reflecting on the past month of experiences that have changed the way I think about the world. The trip home was no exception to the extraordinary reality each new day in the field brought my way, so read on and share in the trip back to the Coal Region to family and friends here at Lourdes! On Thursday morning, after coffee and warm goodbyes exchanged with the OIB team, I prepared for the trip home to Coal Township, Pennsylvania. The...
Pilots, Engineer, PolarTREC teacher
In just a few hours, I will be on my way back to the States via C-17. There will be five passengers and a plane full of cargo from some of the fieldwork happening at Summit Camp, so I'll share the experience home soon. Thank you to the NASA team and NOAA crew for having me on board and letting us into your world of polar airborne science. It has been quite the experience! l will be sharing a profile series so you all can get to know each of the people involved in this well-oiled operation, so please keep following! Officially, I completed TEN science flights with the team (2 sea ice and...
Thomas-Jakobshavn 01 Our first flight of our final week here in Greenland gave us 100% data over another important baseline (priority) mission, covering the fastest-moving glacier in Greenland! Deputy Project Scientist Joe MacGregor referred to the Jakobshavn Isbrae, which flows 17 km/year at its fastest point, as "The Beast." The reason was evident when we flew over dense fields of crevasses, melt ponds, and ridges as we neared the retreating terminus. Scientifically this glacier is a "beast" because it's complexity makes it difficult to measure, yet its high rate of change demands the...
Kelly McCarthy on Greenland Ice Sheet
100 Percent! Saturday we flew a mission called Southwest Coastal B. This mission was yet another baseline (priority) flight, which took us on several glacier runs on the west coast. It was another beautiful clear day, great for our instruments and for our moods. This was our 6th day flying consecutively, and for a season that was tough weather-wise, it was well-deserved treat. Mission Scientist John Sonntag and Deputy Project Scientists Joe MacGregor at work during a priority mission over the Greenland Ice Sheet From my perspective, having the chance to experience the long days and...
View of Kangerlussuaq from Raven's Cliff
We are on our 4th out of 6 consecutive flight days this week! I am grateful for clear skies above our target areas which have allowed us to get in a smooth routine of flying every day. Once the weather is on our side the pace of work picks up. Power is supplied to the plane two hours before take-off and teams start to run instruments within the first hour. The GPS ground station is turned on one hour prior to take-off and will collect data until one hour after we land. I wanted to share with you a little about both yesterday's and today's priority flights. On Wednesday, we covered the...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

20 April 2016 to 19 May 2016
Location: Kangerlussuaq, Thule AFB, Greenland
Project Funded Title: NASA Operation IceBridge

Meet the Team

Kelly McCarthy's picture
Our Lady of Lourdes Regional School
Coal Township, PA
United States

Kelly McCarthy is a science and mathematics teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional School in Coal Township, PA. Upon earning her B.S. in Physics from Penn State University in 2008, she entered and fell in love with the classroom as a Teach for America Corps member in Philadelphia. For the better part of a decade, she has worked to learn and grow as a science educator and hopes to instill her love for learning in each of her students year after year. Always looking for ways to connect her students to real world science, Ms. McCarthy has brought numerous teacher research experiences back to the classroom and was a 2014-15 recipient of NASA's Airborne Research Experience for Educators (AREE) program. Currently, Ms. McCarthy has the pleasure of teaching Physics, Environmental Science, 8th Grade Science, and a combination of secondary mathematics courses. When she is not in the classroom or facilitating after-school science & engineering clubs, Ms. McCarthy loves to travel, explore nearby hiking trails, and train for distance races. She is thrilled to embark on an Arctic mission this spring with NASA's Operation IceBridge and to connect with her students from the field during her PolarTREC expedition.

John Woods's picture
SGT Inc., NASA Operation IceBridge, GSFC
Greenbelt, MD
United States

John Woods is currently NASA’s Operation IceBridge (OIB) project manager. OIB utilizes a highly specialized fleet of research aircraft and the most sophisticated suite of innovative science instruments ever assembled to characterize annual changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets. Prior to working with NASA, John served on Active Duty in the Navy for 14 years as a Meteorology and Oceanography Officer. His tours included the National/Naval Ice Center and United States Naval Academy. John completed his master’s degree in Operational Meteorology and Physical Oceanography at the Naval Postgraduate School and bachelor’s degree in Oceanography at the United States Naval Academy.

Having deployed to the Polar Regions over 6 times, John has spent time in Alaska, Greenland, and the Southern tip of Chile for IceBridge missions. Education and Outreach has always been a passion, and introducing science of the cryosphere has always been a priority. John looks forward to working closely with PolarTREC educators in fulfilling this mission.

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Latest Comments

Such interesting research you guys have done! This looks fascinating!
... I'll be sure to try it!
Absolutely. Great answer, Olivia!
You got it, Johnny! Good job.
Hi 4th Grade!! During this particular adventure there were 3 truckloads of us (about 14 people). We drove much of the way up the mountain so the part we were climbing was not very difficult. The...