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NASA's Antarctic flyover reveals ice in retreat

NASA's airborne survey investigates how ice in Antarctica is responding to a changing climate.

14 PHOTOS

NASA's Operation IceBridge research aircraft flies over Antarctica on Oct. 31. 

NASA’s view from space shows our planet is changing, but to really understand the nitty-gritty of these shifts and what they mean for our future, scientists need a closer look. 

 

Getty Images | Mario Tama
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Now in its ninth year, the operation conducted a set of nine-hour research flights over West Antarctica to monitor ice loss aboard a retrofitted 1966 Lockheed P-3 aircraft. 

 

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Here, the aircraft flies over the western edge of the famed iceberg A68, calved from the Larsen C ice shelf.

The massive iceberg was approximately the size of Delaware when it first calved in July. It's such a colossal chunk of ice that maps of the peninsula must be redrawn.

Related: Giant Iceberg That Broke Free From Antarctica Has Begun Drifting

Getty Images | Mario Tama
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Project scientist Nathan Kurtz takes pictures out the window. 

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An isolated peak, called a nunatuk, projects through ice near the coast of Antarctica. 

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Researchers looking at the IceBridge data believe that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet may be in a state of irreversible decline directly contributing to rising sea levels.

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Scientist John Sonntag plays his guitar during a long flight. 

Getty Images | Mario Tama
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A laser altimeter aboard the aircraft measures the height of the ice surface. 

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IceBridge instruments allow researchers to create detailed photographic maps of polar ice and measure the temperature of the surface below.

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The National Climate Assessment, a study produced every 4 years by scientists from 13 federal agencies of the U.S. government, released a stark report on Nov. 2 stating that global temperature rise over the past 115 years has been primarily caused by "human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases."

Getty Images | Mario Tama
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USGS field geophysicist Katrina Zamudio rests on the return leg of a 9-hour research flight.

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Ice lines a rocky ridge.

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Sea ice floats next to land ice, lower right.

Despite its apparent icy stillness, Antarctica is alive with motion. Huge masses of frozen water slip, slide and grind with enormous pressure against the continent below. 

Getty Images | Mario Tama
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Mission scientist John Sonntag walks to the hangar following a long flight on Nov. 3. 

Photos: NASA's Arctic Flyover

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