NASA scientists swooped over Antarctica and captured a gnarly world

Antarctica's Ninnis Glacier. Image: nasa / operation icebridge By Mark Kaufman2019-11-18 23:10:33 UTC Antarctica is insane. As Antarctic scientist Ted Scambos has repeatedly told me, the lofty mountains on this remote southern landmass are...

NASA scientists swooped over Antarctica and captured a gnarly world
Antarctica's Ninnis Glacier.
Antarctica's Ninnis Glacier.
Image: nasa / operation icebridge

Antarctica is insane.

As Antarctic scientist Ted Scambos has repeatedly told me, the lofty mountains on this remote southern landmass are literally up to their necks in ice. 

There's so much ice blanketing Antarctica that, if all the ice melted, sea levels would rise 200 feet. Antarctica's ice sprawls over a region about the size of the U.S. and Mexico combined. 

Consider that as you view a fresh batch of ineffable Antarctic photos snapped by NASA scientists. The agency is presently flying an expedition over this wondrous ice world, called Operation IceBridge. The multi-year mission is NASA's "most comprehensive airborne survey of ice change." The ice, if you weren't aware, is experiencing momentous change as the climate and oceans relentlessly warm

Look at these colossal rivers of ice, aka glaciers, in East Antarctica. The top is Denman Glacier, the bottom is Scott Glacier. 

Denman Glacier

Denman Glacier

Image: nasa / Operation Icebridge

Scott Glacier

Scott Glacier

Image: nasa / Operation Icebridge

Here, NASA captured the precipitous cliffs of an iceberg broken off from Antarctica. It might be hard to tell from an airplane window, but these cliffs measure some 360 feet high, according to NASA.

Icebergs!

Icebergs!

Image: nasa / Operation icebridge

This mountain, Thompson Peak, is completely flanked by Antarctic glaciers. The glaciers' rutted crevasses, or large cracks, formed as the ice flows toward the coast, can be seen in the foreground.

Thompson Peak

Thompson Peak

Image: nasa / Operation icebridge

Here's a grandiose image of the expansive Cook Ice Shelf meeting the sea, which looks like it's covered in a thin layer of sea ice. (An ice shelf is the end of a glacier that floats over the ocean.)

The Cook Ice Shelf

The Cook Ice Shelf

Image: nasa / Operation Icebridge

As if things couldn't get any wilder, here's an iceberg floating in a polynya. What's a polynya, you ask? A polynya is a massive hole in Antarctic sea ice, which can grow the size of South Carolina or larger. The unique phenomena form when the water under the sea ice gets mixed up, like a bartender shaking up a cocktail, allowing relatively warmer seas to well up and melt the ice.

An iceberg in a polynya.

An iceberg in a polynya.

Image: nasa  / operation icebridge

Lastly, while we're on the topic of Antarctic ice: Antarctica has lost some 3 trillion tons of ice since the early 1990s, leading to an ever-accelerating rate of sea level rise.

Antarctic ice loss.

Antarctic ice loss.

Image: IMBIE / PLANETARY VISIONS

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