NASA Talk Looks at Decades of Measuring Ice Over North and South Poles

Press Release From: Langley Research Center
Posted: Friday, July 31, 2015

As scientists continue to study the ever-changing volume of ice at Greenland and Antarctica, NASA has been collecting large-scale airborne measurements of polar ice since 1993 when little was known about the changes taking place there.

On Tuesday, Aug. 4, at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, NASA senior researcher John Sonntag will present "Bipolar Science: 20+ Years of Airborne Ice Measurements with NASA and Operation IceBridge" at 2 p.m. in the Pearl Young Theater.

This presentation will trace the history and findings from these field campaigns discussing the often similar and sometimes dissimilar behavior of the Arctic and Antarctic ice masses.

Sonntag will be available to answer questions from the media during a news briefing at 1:15 p.m. that day. Media who wish to do so should contact Chris Rink at 757-864-6786, or by e-mail at, by noon on the day of the talk for credentials and entry to the center.

That same evening at 7:30, Sonntag will present a similar program for the general public at the Virginia Air & Space Center in downtown Hampton. This Sigma Series event is free and no reservations are required.

By 2000, airborne science assessments of a major ice sheet showed that Greenland was losing ice to the ocean faster than it was being replenished by snowfall. The next decade saw a focus and expansion of airborne measurements of sea ice thickness including the creation of Operation IceBridge in 2009. This study deploys large aircraft with state of the art instrument packages to north and south every year and continues today.

Sonntag will also discuss the technology behind the ice studies, including the remote-sensing instruments aboard NASA aircraft and other supporting technologies, including precise navigation techniques used to guide the aircraft over sometimes featureless landscapes with unprecedented precision.

Born and raised in north Texas, Sonntag received a Bachelor of Science degree in aerospace engineering from Texas A&M University in 1991 and a Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas in 1993. After graduate school, he began work as a data analyst with NASA's Airborne Topographic Mapper (ATM) team as it was beginning large-scale Greenland ice-mapping efforts.

Twenty-two years later, Sonntag is an ATM senior research and development scientist, and also acts as the flight planner and field team leader of NASA's Operation IceBridge. He has accumulated more than 8000 flight hours as a scientist flying aboard NASA airborne science missions, most of it in the polar regions. He deploys approximately five months of every year for IceBridge science, split between the Arctic and Antarctic.

For more information about NASA Langley's Colloquium and Sigma Series Lectures, visit:

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