Operation IceBridge

NASA's Operation IceBridge Aircraft Missions


This NSIDC DAAC collection includes products derived from NASA's Operation IceBridge: the largest airborne survey of polar regions in history. Data products describe annual changes in ice surface elevation, topography of bedrock under ice sheets, glacier and ice shelf grounding lines, snow and ice thickness, sea ice distribution, sea ice freeboard, ice temperature, and meteorological observations.

The Operation IceBridge mission was designed to bridge the gap in polar observations between the ICESat satellite mission, which ended in 2010, and the ICESat-2 satellite mission, which launched in 2018.  Operation IceBridge flew more than 1,000 aircraft surveys from 2009 to 2020. The flights provided annual mapping of coastal Greenland, coastal Antarctica, the Antarctic Peninsula, interior Antarctica, the southeast Alaskan glaciers, and Antarctic and Arctic sea ice.

The mission used a highly specialized fleet of research aircraft outfitted with a suite of instruments including radar sounders, gravimeters, magnetometers, mapping cameras, among other instruments. By mapping hundreds of miles of ice sheet and glacier grounding lines in Antarctica and Greenland, Operation IceBridge provides data to better understand potential ice sheet instability and retreat. By revealing the topography of the underlying bedrock, Operation IceBridge data shed light on the complex interactions between ice and the land beneath. The aircraft missions also documented seasonal growth and melt of sea ice, including tracking interannual variations in sea ice extent and thickness.

After NASA's ICESat-2 satellite launched on September 15, 2018, Operation IceBridge continued aircraft missions for another 14 months, validating the new satellite's measurements. Operation IceBridge concluded its final polar flight on November 20, 2019.

The Operation IceBridge data collection is the second of three NASA missions providing continuous observations of Earth’s fast-changing polar regions. The NSIDC DAAC offers data products from all three of these missions, including the original ICESat/GLAS satellite altimetry mission and the follow-on ICESat-2 satellite altimetry mission, in addition to data products from Operation IceBridge. 

Screenshot of IceBridge Portal
NSIDC's IceBridge portal provides direct access to data sets. — Credit: NSIDC

The NSIDC DAAC also provides data products from the Land, Vegetation and Ice Sensor (LVIS) Facility. LVIS is an airborne, wide-swath imaging laser altimeter system that can be flown over target areas to collect data on surface topography and three-dimensional structure. LVIS was used for multiple Operation IceBridge campaigns.

The Operation IceBridge data collection includes Level 0 through Level 4 data products. In addition to data, the NSIDC DAAC provides tools and services that extend the use of Operation IceBridge data. The NSIDC DAAC Operation IceBridge Data Portal offers map-based access to data products.


Glacier and ice sheet elevation, glacier and ice sheet topography, sea ice elevation, sea ice thickness, terrain elevation, bedrock topography, snow/ice temperature, radar imagery, visible imagery, meteorological observations, calibration data

Spatial coverage

Arctic, Antarctic, and Alaska

Related collection(s)




Explore images from Operation IceBridge