Getty Images photographer Mario Tama recently spent several days accompanying NASA scientists making 12-hour research flights over West Antarctica. NASA's Operation IceBridge has been studying how polar ice has evolved over the past eight years. The data and observations are being used to determine the state of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet—and whether it is in an irreversible state of decline, accelerating the global rise of sea levels. Tama reports that “NASA and University of California, Irvine researchers have recently detected the speediest ongoing Western Antarctica glacial retreat rates ever observed.” [15 photos total]

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A section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet with mountains is viewed from a window of a NASA Operation IceBridge airplane on October 28, 2016 in-flight over Antarctica. NASA's Operation IceBridge has been studying how polar ice has evolved over the past eight years and is currently flying a set of 12-hour research flights over West Antarctica at the start of the melt season. (Mario Tama / Getty) #
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A tabular iceberg floats near the coast of West Antarctica as seen from a window of a NASA Operation IceBridge airplane on October 27, 2016. Tabular icebergs can measure many miles in length and are often formed after calving from ice shelves. (Mario Tama / Getty) #
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Geoscientist David Gallaher checks on a mission instrument inside the cargo hold of a NASA Operation IceBridge airplane on October 27, 2016 in-flight over Antarctica. (Mario Tama / Getty) #
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An iceberg (Lower R) floats among sea ice streaks viewed near the coast of West Antarctica from a window of a NASA Operation IceBridge airplane on October 28, 2016. (Mario Tama / Getty) #
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A section of ice near the coast of West Antarctica, viewed from a window of a NASA Operation IceBridge airplane on October 31, 2016. (Mario Tama / Getty) #
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NASA flight crew members work inside the cockpit of the NASA Operation IceBridge DC-8 research airplane on October 27, 2016 flying from the coast of Chile, in-flight towards Antarctica. (Mario Tama / Getty) #
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An iceberg floats near the coast of West Antarctica on October 27, 2016. (Mario Tama / Getty) #
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Ice floats near the coast of West Antarctica as seen from a window of a NASA Operation IceBridge airplane on October 27, 2016. (Mario Tama / Getty) #
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Mountains stand near the coast of West Antarctica, photographed on October 27, 2016. (Mario Tama / Getty) #
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Tabular icebergs float near the coast of West Antarctica as seen from a window of a NASA Operation IceBridge airplane on October 28, 2016. (Mario Tama / Getty) #
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IceBridge Project Scientist Nathan Kurtz looks out over ice near the coast of West Antarctica on October 31, 2016 in-flight over Antarctica. (Mario Tama / Getty) #
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A section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, viewed from a window of a NASA Operation IceBridge airplane on October 28, 2016. (Mario Tama / Getty) #
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Sea ice surrounds Bransfield island, photographed on October 27, 2016. (Mario Tama / Getty) #
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Mountains near the coast of West Antarctica are viewed from a window of a NASA Operation IceBridge airplane on October 27, 2016. (Mario Tama / Getty) #
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Ice is viewed near the coast of West Antarctica on October 28, 2016 in-flight over Antarctica. (Mario Tama / Getty) #

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