Englewood resident Maggie Kane piled up frequent flier miles late last year as she traveled from Colorado to southern Chile to take part in Operation Icebridge, where she served as a member of the crew flying over Antarctica as part of the NASA mission to monitor changes in polar ice from a fixed-wing aircraft.
Operation IceBridge’s continuing mission is to collect data on changing polar land and sea ice and maintain continuity of measurements between ICESat missions, similar ice-study missions conducted by satellites. The original ICESat mission ended in 2009, and its successor, ICESat-2, is scheduled for launch in 2018.
Kane is a science teacher at Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning in Denver. She is one 12 teachers selected from about 200 who applied in the nationwide search for educators to participate in PolarTREC. On the website, PolarTREC is described as an educational research experience in which K-12 teachers participate in polar research, working closely with scientists as a pathway to improving science education.
Kane took time recently to answer some questions about her month-long experience.
What about the experience surprised you?
It was so much more than I expected. I expected to be shadowing the scientist and watching them work but I wasn’t just along for the ride. It was a steep learning curve to bring me up to speed so I could work with the scientists. I felt like I was a sponge trying to absorb the amount of learning that I was able to engage in on a daily basis. I became a vital member of the team. I am a scientist but I also am an educator. One of my tasks, a task I enjoyed, was to engage with schools by sharing the scientific information I was learning with the students in a meaningful way.”
How did you share information with students?
There was a program on the aircraft to connect with schools. Schools could book a time and then it was like a chat line as I chatted about the mission and tried to answer their questions. We communicated with one school in Mexico and a number of schools throughout the United States. Also, when I completed the flying phase of my trip I spent two days with students in two different schools in Santiago, Chile. I also posted my journal online and schools including the school where I teach kept track of what I was doing in the South Pole.
What was a typical day like for you?
It was a demanding schedule. We had breakfast at about 6 a.m., went to briefing, and then took off for 10 to 12 hours gathering data flying over the ice. We usually got back to quarters about 10 p.m. but I still had emails to send out and I had to complete my journal before I went to bed. I was on site 26 days and made 13 flights. It was challenging, but I didn’t want to sit in camp and miss a minute of the excitement of flying the missions.
Were there surprises?
I think the biggest surprise for me was the extent and beauty of the ice in Antarctica. The ice isn’t flat. There are mountains, shelves and crevices that are truly amazing. It is a bit overwhelming. Another surprise was the eagerness of children to learn about the mission. I found the children I talked to in Santiago and those I talked with on line very interested in the study and what was happening to the ice in the South Pole.
What do you feel is important about the mission?
The mission documents the melting of the ice in Antarctica. Right now a huge portion of the Larsen Ice Shelf is about to break off. The water under the shelf is warming so eventually a big chunk of ice will break off and float away. The crack where the ice is separating from the shelf is very visible. It starts out looking like a little line in the ice. The crack runs about 72 miles and widens to where it is 30 meters wide and a kilometer deep. When the ice breaks away from the shelf the piece visible above the water will be the about the size of the state of Delaware and the ice will extend down into the ocean maybe 1,000 feet. I am concerned that most people don’t understand what is happening to the ice pack at both poles. My wish is that more leaders would study the data and make the decision to help us take actions to at least slow the warming causing the ice melt.