NASA aircraft and scientists have returned to the United States after a short ice-surveying mission to Antarctica.
Despite having only a week of flying time, the team returned with crucial scientific data and a trove of spectacular aerial photographs.
The flights over Antarctica were part of Operation IceBridge, a multi-year mission to monitor conditions in Antarctica and the Arctic until a new ice-monitoring satellite, ICESat-2, launches in 2016.
ICESat-1 was decommissioned in 2009, and IceBridge aircraft have been flying ever since.
Laser altimeter and radar data are the primary products of the mission, but IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger almost always has his digital camera ready as well. On November 24, 2013, he took this photograph of a multi-layered lenticular cloud hovering near Mount Discovery, a volcano about 70 kilometers (44 miles) southwest of McMurdo.
Lenticular clouds are a type of wave cloud. They usually form when a layer of air near the surface encounters a topographic barrier, gets pushed upward, and flows over it as a series of atmospheric gravity waves. Lenticular clouds form at the crest of the waves, where the air is coolest and water vapor is most likely to condense into cloud droplets. The bulging sea ice in the foreground is a pressure ridge, which formed when separate ice floes collided and piled up on each other.
Photograph courtesy of Michael Studinger. Caption by Adam Voiland of NASA's Earth Observatory. Larger image