PUNTA ARENAS, CHILE
-- What they say of Kansas is true of Punta Arenas, Chile. If you don’t like the weather, stick around 10 minutes. NASA Operation Ice Bridge flight for Monday, Oct. 19, was scrubbed due to the weather.
The skies were clear over Antarctica and plans were well under way for a 10 a.m. local time take off, but dense, wet snowflakes that stuck to everything at the airport put a different spin on preparations.
Operation Ice Bridge continues a multi-year series of measurements of changes in polar ice sheets and sea ice started by NASA’s ICESat satellite. The primary focus of the day’s mission was a high-altitude flight, 30,000 feet over the Antarctic peninsula using the LVIS -- Laser Vegetation Imaging Sensor –- which measures the surface elevation of the ice sheet. Several other instruments, including the MCoRDS radar system from the University of Kansas, also would be able to collect data during this particular flight. The MCoRDs can tell earth scientists how thick the ice sheets are and what the ice rests on. Two other radars developed at KU’s
National Science Foundation Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets,
the SNOW radar that measures snow thickness on sea ice and the Ku-band radar, must collect data at low altitude (1,500 to 2,000 feet above the surface).
In the preflight briefing this morning, researchers and NASA’s DC-8 flight crew discussed different deicing methods and how those methods might affect the delicate instruments or interfere with necessary data collection prior to take off. Several instruments have sensors on the aircraft’s exterior. The crew also worked to ascertain what deicing methods were available at the Carlos Ibanez del Campo Airport in Punta Arenas.
Turns out they only use brooms to deice here.
The heavy nature of the snow, its horizontal flight path, the unbroken cloud cover and the uncertainty of when this particular snowfall would end led to a decision to scrub the flight.
Two hours later, the constant high winds typical of the region had cleared most of the clouds, and only the snow in the foothills surrounding the city remained.
The researchers and flight crew will meet at 6 p.m. this evening to look at weather forecasts, identify mission objectives and determine a possible flight path if signs are favorable to fly on Tuesday.
The team has been able to complete two of its 17 scheduled flights. The Operation Ice Bridge DC-8 deployment to Punta Arenas will end Nov. 21, regardless of whether all 17 flights have been completed.
Interesting note of the region:
Dogs are everywhere in Punta Arenas, Chile. Stray dogs have the run of the town. They are a little scruffy, extremely friendly and always ready for a handout or a pat. Most of the dogs still have thick winter coats, but they don’t seem malnourished. Evidently, people feed them. They also are very cognizant of cars. This morning, a dog stepped out in the street to bark at another dog and then nimbly backed out of the way of oncoming cars in rush hour traffic. One more thing about the dogs: Not many cats around.