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Operation IceBridge Enables More Context About the Global Climate

Project Leads: Field Cyberinfrastructure PI: Richard J. Knepper

Funded in-part by:  National Aeronautics and Space Administration (USA) (NASA), award FY2013-070

Research made possible by:  Campus Bridging and Research Infrastructure (CBRI); Forward Observer

Transcript Reconstruction Performance
Figure 1. Shows the Totten Glacier ice shelf in East Antarctica (the wrinkled white area at top left) on Sept. 25, 2013. Two large open-water polynyas appear on the sea ice below and to the right of the shelf, as well as several smaller ones. The open-water areas are bright black. The stippled diagonal line from lower left to upper right is the outer edge of the sea ice, with cloud cover to the right of that line. The image is from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite.

Research indicates that seabed topology underneath the Totten Glacier of East Antarctica is contributing to the Glacier's melting at higher-than-before-thought rates. Analyzing data gathered by a number of research groups in a number of countries, a group of glacial scientists has determined that the seabed at the edges of the continent is channeling warmer water inland under the ice sheet, accelerating its thinning. Because of the way the seabed is shaped under the ice, this also increases the exposure the ice sheet itself gets to the warmer water; further out to sea, a layer of colder water insulates the deeper, warm water from the sea ice.

According to the Australian Antarctic Division, the Totten Glacier is discharging 100 times the volume of Sydney Harbor worth of melt water into the ocean each year. The Totten Glacier is particularly important because it holds back a much larger sheet of land ice that, were it to begin to melt into the ocean, would result in a sea level rise; conservative estimates suggest the current sea level would rise 11 feet, which does not take into account a corresponding loss that could occur on the West Antarctic Glacier, which sits atop similar geographic features as the Totten Glacier. 

This discovery was the result of a collaboration between institutions in multiple states, countries, and continents working together to collect and analyze data from a number of seasons in order to create more context about the global climate. NASA’s Operation IceBridge team collected the bulk of the data (that is, everything between 2009-2012, and much of the data from 2012-forward), with Indiana University fielding a team of IT professionals to provide cyberinfrastructure support for data collection, verification, and processing of data collected both in the field and at home after the end of each data collection season. IU created an instrument-driven system, the Forward Observer, in order to allow data capture and processing while NASA’s radar plane is in flight.


The Campus Bridging and Research Infrastructure division of PTI provides a number of IT services in direct support of scientific discovery, including data collection and processing for the Operation IceBridge project.

NSF GSS Codes:

Primary Field: Geosciences (302) Earth Sciences

Secondary Field:  Computer Science (401) Data Modeling