Photographs by Mario Tama/Getty Images
Text by Ye Charlotte Ming
The Arctic has been one of the regions hardest hit by climate change. This year, Arctic sea ice reached its maximum wintertime extent on March 7, the lowest in nearly 40 years of satellite record, according to NASA scientists and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), a Colorado-based research agency. Scientists attributed the ice condition to a unusually warm winter in the Arctic.
NASA's Operation IceBridge has been studying how polar ice changed over the past nine years. In October 2016, Getty Images photographer Mario Tama accompanied NASA scientists on three research flights to observe the ice sheets in Antarctica. This March, he was offered another rare opportunity—flying with the scientists over Greenland and Canada to monitor the Arctic ice loss.
The team departed daily from Thule Air Base, the U.S. military's northernmost base, in Pituffik, Greenland, located some 750 miles above the Arctic Circle. Each mission lasted for eight hours.
The P-3 search aircraft NASA used for the missions was initially delivered to the Navy in 1966 and has been retrofitted with science instruments.
"We took two flights over various glaciers in Ellesmere Island, Canada. On the second flight we encountered a strong section of turbulence, locking us into our seats for a significant portion of the flight. The flights were often through glacial valleys and even a small amount of wind into those valleys can result in a bumpy ride," Tama recounts the experience.
On one expedition, NASA scientists invited Tama on a hike to survey icebergs locked in a sea ice from the ground. "We hiked about 30 minutes across the sea ice over a frozen bay before reaching this iceberg," Tama says.
Tama spotted a few snowshoe hares poking out from behind the snow drifts while hiking to the iceberg. The hares are named "snowshoe" because of their large long feet, which help to prevent them from sinking into the snow. "I never expected to encounter such a creature so far north," Tama says. "It seems that hares and foxes hang out near the air base as they may be able to procure discarded food from time to time."
Tama hopes his photographs can help visualize the important work the scientists are doing and make their discovery more accessible to the public.
See more stunning photos of the arctic ice cap
A section of a glacier above Ellesmere Island, Canada, on March 29, 2017.
An ice-covered mountain range on Ellesmere Island, Canada, on March 29, 2017.
An ice field above Ellesmere Island, Canada, on March 29, 2017.
A section of ice sheet along the Upper Baffin Bay coast above Greenland on March 27, 2017.
A section of an ice field above Ellesmere Island, Canada, on March 29, 2017.