An Artificial Landmark in the Arctic

Ice sheets don't have many landmarks, but the IceBridge flight path between the Humboldt and Petermann Glacier contains one straight out of history: the 1947 crash site of the B-29 Superfortress, Kee Bird.

Illustration for article titled An Artificial Landmark in the Arctic

Operation IceBridge is a NASA mission to monitor ice, making annual flights since 2009 to track changes in glaciers, ice sheets, and sea ice. The flight path between two major points of scientific interest contains the landmark wreck, a broken skeleton of metal in a sea of blinding white ice.

In 1947, a B-29 Superfortress named Kee Bird made an emergency landing in northwest Greenland. Calling it a "landing" is a bit generous, as the plane crashed after running into nasty weather during a reconnaissance flight. The crew survived and was rescued after three days, but the wreck was abandoned. The plane managed to almost kill another crew in the 1990s, after an attempt at restoration went awry and the plane caught fire. No further attempt at recovery has been made, so the plane has been slowly buried by snow and ice ever since.

This bit of aeronautic history is a landmark for scientists who must get painfully tired of staring at blinding ice sheets during the long flights, but to me it's also aesthetically fascinating in a warped way. The broken wings of the plane half-buried in snow are reminiscent of a crumpled fossilized avian dinosaur mid-excavation, another reminder that humans are adding a unique signature to the geologic record.

When not on a mission, the IceBridge plane lives in a hanger it occasionally shares with a giant inflatable polar bear mascot from the nearby university. Image credit & read more:NASA/IceBridge Digital Mapping System/Earth Observatory