If You Were a Pilot Flying Low Over the Arctic, This Is What You'd See

Today in scientific side effects: a chillingly beautiful movie of Earth's chilliest places

The first thing you should know about Operation IceBridge, NASA's polar ice image-collection effort, is that its purpose is science. The project uses a specialized fleet of research aircraft and what it calls "the most sophisticated suite of innovative science instruments ever assembled" to measure annual changes in the thickness of sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets -- measurements that, in turn, help scientists to predict the response of the Earth's polar ice to climate change and the rising sea levels that come with it.

The second thing you should know about Operation IceBridge, however, is that the images it gathers in the name of science are gorgeous. Chillingly, other-world-ily gorgeous. And that fact is on display in the video above, which offers a cockpit's-eye view as NASA's P-3B aircraft flies an Operation IceBridge mission over Greenland and the Arctic Ocean. The purpose of this particular campaign, conducted in spring 2013, was to collect radar, laser altimetry, and other data on the changing ice sheets, glaciers, and sea ice. But its side effect is a series of images, courtesy of cockpit- and nadir-mounted cameras, that give a sweeping sense of some of Earth's most shinily beautiful regions. Regions that are perhaps best explored through the distance, and relative warmth, of a computer screen.    

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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