NASA has begun a mission much closer to home than usual. The agency is flying a DC-8 over Antarctica to track melting glaciers and any subsequent rise in sea levels. Operation Ice Bridge is designed to buttress the work of a fading satellite, ICESat, which is just about spent after 7 years of service. Its replacement won't be in orbit until 2015 at the earliest, reports NPR.
"It seems important to keep an eye on these regions," says the project's lead scientist. "We wouldn't want to wake up in five or six years and have an oh-my-God moment." Although a jet can't cover as much ground as a satellite, its radar can provide more detailed information on what it does detect. One of the main trouble spots it's watching is Pine Island, where a glacier is sliding into the Amundsen Sea.