The NASA IceBridge mission has been going on for 4 years, measuring ice thickness using LiDAR. Along with the usual assortment of stunning ice-photography, last week had a delightful surprise: a giant inflatable polar bear.
The inflatable mascot took shelter in the mission's hangar to dry out on the morning of March 19th. How large are we talking? That's an A-star helicopter for scale.
Later in the day, the Icebridge survey flight captured a photograph of the Brooks Range during a survey between Thule, Greenland to Fairbanks, Alaska.
How exactly is NASA using LiDAR to measure sea ice and glacier thickness? LiDAR is a technique for bouncing different wavelengths of light off of a surface to measure distances. Shorter wavelength lasers are used to detect the surface elevation of snow or ice, while longer wavelength radar penetrates into the ice to map bedrock below. Here's a quick unnarrated animation giving the general premise:
Image credit: NASA/Michael Studinger
Update: The polar bear works as a mascot for the University of Alaska-Fairbanks hockey team, the Nanooks. His name is honeybear, and he has a hilariously over-the-top pre-game pump-up-the-action video starring his CGI counterpart that is just tangentially space-ish enough to embed:
...but I still don't know how he got wet and why he needed to seek shelter by cozying up to a NASA ice monitoring mission. As a consolation prize, here he is on his home turf.