A team led by two NASA scientists is all set to embark on a 750-kilometre expedition
in one of the most barren landscapes on Earth to survey an unexplored stretch of Antarctic ice. On December 21, they will begin their two-to three-week traverse in an arc around the South Pole, the NASA said.
The expedition will ultimately provide the best assessment of the accuracy of data collected from space by the Ice Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2), set to
launch in 2018, according to the US space agency. They are packing extreme cold-weather gear and scientific instruments onto sleds pulled by two tank-like snow machines called PistenBullys, the NASA said.
With a fast-firing laser instrument, ICESat-2 will measure the elevation of ice sheets and track change over time. Even small amounts of melt across areas as vast as Greenland or Antarctica can result in large amounts of meltwater contributing to sea level rise. To help document this, ICESat-2’s height change measurements will have a precision of less than an inch-ground-truthed, in part, with efforts like this Antarctic campaign.
The team will collect precise GPS data of the elevation at 88 degrees south, where ICESat-2’s orbits converge, providing thousands of points where the survey measurements can be compared to satellite data. “This traverse provides an extremely challenging and extremely cold way to assess the accuracy of the data,” said Kelly Brunt from NASA.
“ICESat-2’s datasets are going to tell us incredible things about how Earth’s ice is changing, and what that means for things like sea level rise,” Brunt said.