TODAY   |  June 09, 2013

Dylan joins NASA on an Alaskan adventure

TODAY's Dylan Dreyer takes a plane ride with NASA scientists as they monitor melting ice caps and glaciers in Alaska in hopes of protecting beaches and shorelines for the future.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> 75% of our freshwater comes from glaciers and as they melt in places like alaska , causing sea levels to rise, our shores could be at risk.

>> it's been more than 40 years since they put a man on the moon. and now through their mission, operation ice bridge , nasa is using lasers to measure ice caps in glaciers worldwide in hopes of protecting beaches and shorelines for the future.

>> main driving reason is sea level rise as glaciers melt and provide additional freshwater to the oceans.

>> chris larson is the principal investigator in alaska .

>> on average, glaciers are melting about this much in alaska . about 2 feet per year. the surface lowering. that all goes into the ocean.

>> researchers say what happens in alaska doesn't necessarily stay there. the ice bridge program monitors the environment and the ecology here and they say that could be a precursor of what could happen hundreds of years from now on a much larger scale. as the climate warms and glaciers thin, nasa says the sea level is rising at about one inch every eight years. while it's a slow process, all of this is important because without proper planning, just 5 feet added to the sea level would flood almost all of miami and new orleans. many coastal communities would also see flooding.

>> if you look at the worldwide distribution of humanity, we like the coast. it's not something you plan for.

>> he and his team of researchers use gps tracking devices to serve as reference points for the laser inside the aircraft.

>> it's a laser altimeter. it's a scanning system that sweeps a beam across the surface of the glacier as we travel over it with the aircraft.

>> the surface elevation of more than 200 glaciers. glaciers exist because too much snowfalls in one particular place. it flows down the mountains, turns into ice and melts or breaks off into the ocean. when more or less melting occurs than snowfall, the glacier becomes out of balance.

>> it's a global phenomenon that affects all communities.

>> something operation ice bridge hopes to be minimized around the world through their work in alaska .

>> now, we should point out that at the current rate of sea level rise , it could take hundreds of years for coastal communities to be wiped out. but with proper planning, future generations can minimize the impact on their homes and families. you know, that's what thaerg trying to do, raise awareness for coastal communities that hundreds of years from now, that coastline might not be there.

>> that's from hurricanes and storm surge . we know the areas that are vulnerable, right?

>> exactly. in present day , so many more people are affected when a hurricane hits a coastal community.

>> it seems there's always that discussion after a storm, after a hurricane. yet it fades away. people start to build it's a tough conversation to have.

>> that's where people want to live.

>> for a lot of reason.

>> you can't change nature, but you have to change ourselves.

>> 100 miles inland now and several hundred years from now