Researchers working as part of NASA’s Operation IceBridge have been photographing Earth’s polar ice in hopes of better understanding connections between polar regions and the global climate system.

Over the past nine years, NASA has been studying how ice has evolved and changed through sophisticated instruments that measure snow depth, ice elevation and thickness, surface temperature, bed topography and other characteristics of sea ice, ice sheets, and glaciers.

Getty Images Photojournalist Mario Tama captured the experience of a nine-hour research flight over West Antarctica to monitor ice loss while he was aboard a retrofitted 1966 Lockheed P-3 aircraft earlier this month.

According to NASA, the current mission targets “sea ice in the Bellingshausen and Weddell seas, and glaciers in the Antarctic Peninsula and along the English and Bryan Coasts.”

Researchers have used the IceBridge data to study what is perhaps an irreversible decline of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet that is directly contributing to rising sea levels.

The National Climate Assessment, a study produced every four years by scientists from 13 federal agencies of the U.S. government, released a stark report describing that the increasing global temperature throughout the past 115 years has been primarily caused by human activities like greenhouse gas emissions.

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