Polar Flight 90 - The Polar Pumpkin's Journey to the North Pole

About the Science

Laser Induced Fluorescent Emission (L.I.F.E.)

Sparkling Science: Polar Flight 90 for L.I.F.E.

Polar Flight 90 will be working with "Sparkling Science", a research program of the Austrian Fedral Ministry of Science and Research promoting young scientists. Read more about Polar Flight 90 for L.I.F.E. here.

Once thought to be barren of life, the ice covers of alpine and polar lakes, ice sheets, glacial surfaces, and snow are home to rich microbial communities often dominated by photosynthetic cyanobacteria. Earth's cryosphere is filled with life despite the harsh living conditions. Red, green and blue lasers will be mounted on the Polar Pumpkin to find the microscopic life living in the ice and snow.

Lasers can produce fluorescence from photosynthetic pigments without destroying microbial life, community structure or the icy habitat. During a solo flight to the North Pole, Art Mortvedt will acquire L.I.F.E. signatures from glaciers, ice covered lakes and sea ice. The flight will be the first airborne application of L.I.F.E. to search for life in the ices of the Earth.

The technology is of considerable interest for orbital monitoring of Earth's cryosphere and for searching for life in the ice of Mars, the icy moons of the outer planets, and terrestrial exoplanets certain to be discovered in the next two decades. A hyperspectral camera also will be mounted on the plane.


Dr. Birgit Sattler, University of Innsbruck, Austria

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