The splashes of blue are melt ponds, areas where snow has melted and pooled in low spots on glaciers and sea ice. A digital camera on NASA’s ER-2 airplane captured this top-down view of a melt pond atop a glacier in southeastern Alaska on July 16, 2014. Chunks of ice float on the pond’s turquoise water.
When it took this photograph, the ER-2 was flying at 64,000 feet (20,000 meters), about twice as high as a commercial jet. In addition to the camera, the ER-2 was carrying the Multiple Altimeter Beam Experimental Lidar (MABEL). MABEL is a laser altimeter designed to measure the elevation of glaciers, mountains, forests, and other landforms below.
Scientists are using MABEL’s measurements to design algorithms for the upcoming Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) mission. MABEL is similar to an instrument that will fly on ICESat-2, and scientists can use its measurements now to better understand how the instrument works and what the data will look like when they start making measurements from space.
The 2014 MABEL campaign was launched, in part, to study melt ponds and other features of summer ice. Engineers added a new camera system that made it possible to match the MABEL measurements with a photographic glimpse of the ground. The digital camera took a picture every 3 seconds, with each frame capturing an area about 2.5 by 1.5 kilometers (1.6 by 0.9 miles).
Credit: NASA/MABEL team.
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