Journalist Experience in Greenland
on Her Paid Internship!
accumulation rate is one of the most important experiments that
is required for the model to see what the contribution of the ice
sheet is to sea level rise," he said. The plane we flew in was
a P-3 Orion, a former submarine hunter built by the United States
Navy and later purchased by NASA. Instead of torpedoes, the bomb
bay underneath the plane now carries scientific equipment, and instead
of flying over oceans searching for enemy subs, it now flies over
ice gathering scientific data.
Getting ready to
fly each day took several hours of work, and on flight days everyone
was up early. No one was up at the crack of down, though, because
there was no dawn. It never got dark, a phenomenon that was almost
eerie at first. No matter the time of day, I never noticed a change
in the light, only a change in the position of the sun.
the mornings, Bill Krabill, a NASA senior scientist, would check
the weather forecast at the airport and plot the plane's course.
The scientific equipment won't work in cloudy weather. Meanwhile,
the flight crew would warm up the engines and fuel the plane, and
the scientists would prepare the equipment. My job was to stay out
of the way and take pictures.
The inside of the
plane was stripped of anything unnecessary and loaded with lasers,
global positioning systems, radar equipment and computers. A few
seats were bolted to floor, but they looked almost out of place
beside the hardware. This was no commercial airline, and neither
was the safety briefing I received before my first flight.
Pilot Chris Pali
showed me how to operate the emergency escape door and use the two
types of emergency breathing systems, in case of a cockpit fire.
He pointed out the emergency escape rope and the ax that could be
used to chop through the skin of the airplane for escape, and he
explained how to use the rescue flares and signal mirror. And, should
we be stranded on the ice, everyone on board had his or her own
winter survival kit, complete with parka and boots. I simply nodded
and clutched my camera. Pali told me that if I started to black
out, I should tell one of the pilots. I agreed that I would certainly
got to sit in the cockpit for the premium view of the spectacular
scenery. We flew low, 1,600 meters, and the flight pattern was mapped
out beforehand. Every mission took the plane to a new part of the
ice sheet. Sometimes we flew in a grid, and sometimes we flew a
circular route, from point to point. Each mission lasted between
five and eight hours, with the equipment gathering data about the
ice below the entire time.
surface was sometimes soft and hazy, and sometimes jagged and sharp,
ridged with huge crevasses that split the surface. Sometimes we
were so far out on the ice sheet that it spread to the horizon in
every direction, and other times we skimmed over glaciers dropping
icebergs into the icy water.
"Glaciers are drainage
points for the ice sheet," Krabill said. At one point, we flew
into a bank of clouds, and it was so hazy that the horizon disappeared
and we were swimming in a thick fog of white. Near the edge of the
ice where it was melting, pools of bright blue water would form
on the surface. The ice was so white it hurt my eyes. To maximize
the potential of the trip, several projects were taking place on
the plane. Besides the two KU radars, other scientists were operating
a global positioning system that was constantly tracking the position
of the plane and a laser altimeter that was measuring the surface
elevation of the ice.
The radar that maps
the internal layers of the ice, designed by Kanagaratnam the doctoral
student, is used to determine the accumulation rate of snow on the
ice. Little snow melts this far north, so each year's snowfall compresses
the previous year's accumulation and forms layers in the ice, each
one a little denser than the one above it. The accumulation rate
lets scientists determine the mass balance of the ice sheet and
see if the ice is growing or shrinking.
The second radar,
which measures ice thickness, penetrates to the bedrock beneath
the ice. Torry Akins, a KU graduate and research scientist on the
trip, said the ice is sometimes two or three kilometers thick.
"If you know how
thick the ice is, you can know how much ice is flowing past a certain
point," he said.