The melting season has just about started (no, I'm not calling the max), but already scientists are out there in different parts of the Arctic doing their thing. Currently there are two eye-catching missions being carried out, both having to do with measuring ice thickness to validate satellite data.
The European Space Agency has two simultaneous and overlapping campaigns currently in operation: SMOS ice 2014 and CryoVEx2014. Both missions can be followed on this ESA blog, which contains a lot of interesting information and some awesome images. Take for instance this one:
That's the Norwegian Research Vessel Lance that has left Svalbard last week and is now sailing towards the Barentsz Sea, taking ice thickness measurements along the way using a range of different techniques (including a helicopter).
Notice those melt ponds on the ice, despite the time of year (edit: Stefan Hendricks who took this picture informs me in the comment section below that these are "not melt ponds, but spots of bare thin ice"). Svalbard just experienced the warmest February on record:
For the CryoVEx campaign the ESA teams up with its North American counterpart, NASA. NASA teams are in the Arctic every year for Operation IceBridge to measure sea ice thickness (until ICESat-2 gets launched in 2016), so they might as well give a hand and help validate CryoSat-2 data products.
There's lots of flying around and between Alert, Fairbanks, Longyearbyen, Ilulissat, Inuvik, Thule, Eureka and Resolute. This isn't without risk, but the flying and measurement teams are very skilled and experienced.
Here's the news page for Operation IceBridge, with Jim Hunt keeping track of things on the Arctic Sea Ice Forum. Other organisations involved with these missions are the Danish Technical University, the Alfred Wegener Institute, University College London, the U.S. Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, and Canada’s York and Alberta Universities. A lot of people working hard to monitor one of the most important regions on the planet.
Some more beautiful images: