NASA's DC-8 airborne science laboratory has successful completed its 2011 Operation IceBridge science flights over the Antartica, collecting data over glaciers, including the discovery of a large crack that had began across the Pine Island Glacier ice shelf.

According to NASA, the estimated 18-mile-long rift which just recently began could be a precursor to the separation of an estimated 310 square mile iceberg in the ocean in the near future.

The IceBridge flight and science team flew a record 24 science flights during the six-week campaign. Mission manager Chris Miller's reported that clear weather over the eastern side of the peninsula provided "a rare opportunity to collect data over glaciers that are more regularly shrouded in cloud."

The science team was able to collect data at low altitudes of only 1,500 feet above ground because of the clear weather.

The DC-8 airborne science laboratory logged about 308 flight hours during the Operation IceBridge, including 127 hours of actual data collection from its suite of seven specialized instruments.

The Operation IceBridge science flight teams represented several NASA centers, the University of Kansas, the University of California at Santa Cruz and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.

"As you will undoubtedly hear from other reports from the science and mission director community, this has been a fantastic deployment from many different aspects," DC-8 research pilot Troy Asher, who flew the final science flight, said.