Lt. Cmdr. John Woods is a Meteorology and Oceanography Officer (METOC) currently teaching in the Oceanography Department at the United States Naval Academy (USNA). He is part of the Sea Ice Thickness Observation team currently participating in NASA’s Operation IceBridge 2011 (OIB 2011).
Another early morning wake-up with a quick check of the weather. I went to bed with snow falling and not-so-promising satellite pictures showing a fairly significant storm system off to our west. I was thinking we would be canceled due to weather, but woke up to surprisingly calm conditions. The system skirted by us to our west and headed due south rather than east. The weather conditions here in the Arctic are much different from home, and I am still trying to figure out how the weather systems move about the area.
I created a picture from a satellite image, with approximate locations of Thule Air Base, and our proposed flight path. You can see the major part of the weather was to our west, and we had some high clouds in our operating area to the north towards the pole.
The mission was another satellite underpass track, this time for the European Space Agency CRYOSAT platform. Take off was under relatively clear skies, and we got some great views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers around Thule. I am told that this was nothing compared to the upcoming land ice flights, but I was still in awe with the beauty of the ice flowing towards the sea, and the morning sunrise reflecting off the snow-covered mountains. The calving front was clearly visible from our low altitude just after take-off.
This is the area where the land ice meets the water, and at this time of year, the water is still frozen, so the sea ice sort of acts like a buffer to hold up the glacier. During the summer months, the sea ice retreats due to the warmer air temperatures, and the glacier flows freely into the water, and calves into icebergs.
About an hour and half into our flight, we reached the beginning of the data collection line. We dropped down to 1,500 feet in attempt to get under the clouds to allow the instruments on board to collect data. Today, the cloud deck was down around 1,000 feet, so we had to fly below that level. This made for some spectacular viewing of the sea ice conditions.
After about two hours of flying our survey line, we reached about 87.5 degrees north, only 150 miles from the North Pole. The P-3 made a wide S turn to backtrack on the same line that we covered on the way out. This gives the instrument teams twice the data to be compared to the satellite that would be passing over our heads, taking similar measurements.
Midshipman Brugler departed Thule the day after St. Patrick’s day on the rotator flight back to BWI airport, so we went out and searched for some congratulatory Corned Beef in honor of his departure.
I remain at Thule AB, hoping to get on the flight across the Arctic to Fairbanks, Alaska to survey the Navy Ice Camp. Weather permitting of course!