SEATTLE - The University of Washington is one of the key institutions looking at what's happening to the Arctic, global warming and the rise in the oceans.
When we think of NASA, we often think about space, but NASA is also behind the flights over the poles. It's called Operation IceBridge and the news this spring near the North Pole is not good.
"The ice mass is decreasing. Both the Arctic sea-ice appears to be shrinking and thinning and the ice sheets are dropping in elevation," said Laura Koenig, NASA.
Koenig is a former UW grad student, now a scientist with these NASA flights over the Arctic.
The ice should be at its maximum now, at its thickest.
But it's not.
A NASA DC-8 is equipped with lasers to measure the thickness of the ice.
"It also carries what's called a snow radar that is able to measure the depth of the snow on ice," said polar oceanographer Seelye Martin, who was the University of Washington chief scientist last fall when Operation Ice Bridge was studying the South Pole.
His pictures show part of the problem.
"Up here, you can see where this old ice surface was. And that's about 100 meters," he said as he showed a picture.
He says the ice dropped after an ice sheet named "Larson B" broke away and floated out to sea.
But Martin says the concern level in the South Pole is mild compared to the Arctic in the north, that several times in recent years has become a virtually open ocean.
"The reduction in summer ice is a source of great concern. And Antarctic ice is essentially in balance or very slightly increasing, with the exception of one region," he said.
Glaciers in Greenland are also being closely studied.
NASA says the oceans are rising about 3 millimeters a year. Koenig says half of that is due to the loss of ice on land.