Nasa will conduct a series of flights to study changes to Antarctica’s sea ice, glaciers and ice sheets from the DC-8, an airborne laboratory.

The airborne laboratory will aid in collecting data to better predict how changes to the massive Antarctic ice sheet will contribute to future sea level rises around the world.

The data will also ensure a continuous record of observations and bridge the data gap between Nasa’s present ice, cloud, and land elevation satellite (ICESat), which is nearing the end of its design life and the ICESat-II, which is set to be launched in 2014.

The DC-8 payload includes an airborne topographic mapper to produce elevation maps of the ice surface.

The laboratory will also be equipped with a multichannel coherent radar depth sounder, and a laser vegetation imaging sensor to measure ice sheet thickness and varied terrain below, and map sea ice and glacier zones.

Other instruments include a gravimeter and a snow radar to measure ocean cavity beneath floating ice shelves and the thickness of snow on top of sea ice and glaciers.

NASA has 17 flights planned over some of the fastest-changing areas in western Antarctica and its ice-covered coastal waters for the project.

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The flights are part of Operation Ice Bridge, a six-year campaign that includes mapping key areas of polar regions once a year.