If you’re a GlacierHub reader then you are likely familiar with our love for the imagery and science that resulted from more than a decade of Operation IceBridge––and our lament that the temporary program has finally been replaced by satellite. To be clear, this is a good thing––but it means that personal images from the window seat of IceBridge flights, like this week’s Photo Friday courtesy of glaciologist Mike MacFerrin, are now a thing of the past.
On March 8, MacFerrin shared a 2018 photo of a Greenlandic piedmont glacier on Twitter with the florid caption “Like cold honey spilling onto a plate.” He snapped the picture with his mobile phone, which if you look carefully, is visible in the window reflection.
One of the upsides of Operation IceBridge was that it took scientists to hard-to-reach regions for observation. “It’s less impressive than if I stood on a mountainside taking the photo,” MacFerrin told GlacierHub via Twitter. “But that part of Northeast Greenland National Park is extremely remote and inaccessible otherwise.”
The mission of Icebridge was to collect data for predicting the response of the Earth’s polar ice to climate change and sea-level rise. NASA assembled the operation after an ice monitoring satellite, NASA’s Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), malfunctioned in 2009. Operation Icebridge flights “bridged the gap” until the successor satellite, ICESat-2, could be launched in 2018.
The unnamed glacier in MacFerrin’s image is a piedmont glacier, a valley glacier which has spilled out onto relatively flat plains, spreading into bulb-like lobes––or as MacFerrin put it so poetically, like cold honey spilling onto a plate. The formation of a piedmont glacier happens when ice flows down a steep valley and spills out onto a relatively flat plain. The biggest and perhaps most famous piedmont glacier is Alaska’s Malaspina Glacier, which glaciologist Mark Fahnestock aptly described as a 1,500-square mile “large puddle of ice.”
NASA said 2019 would be the final year of IceBridge flights, “the end of an era of airborne observations that has catalogued an Arctic that has experienced rapid change––from the rapid thinning of many Greenland ocean-terminating outlet glaciers to the continued decline of the Arctic sea ice pack in extent, snow cover and thickness.” Though IceBridge may have ended, don’t expect us to stop sharing its images anytime soon.