March 30, 2012

ESA’s CryoSat Provides Good News On Antarctic Ice

According to a press release from Europe´s Space administration (ESA) part of Antarctica´s ice sheet has increased in height. These findings come from the ESA´s ice-measuring satellite, CryoSat. According to the ESA, these findings not only provide good news from the ice sheets, but also show the effectiveness of their CryoSat missions.

According to their website, ESA.int, CryoSat is Europe´s first mission to address the thickness of land and sea ice and how this thickness is changing.

Studying a particularly harsh area of land in Antarctica, CryoSat took its measurements from a plateau known as the “blue ice region” on the edge of Antarctica. This region is unique due to its lack of ice and vast expanses of polished, blue ice.

ESA chose this unique region not only to study the thickness of Antarctic ice sheets, but also to test the accuracy of CryoSat´s radar altimeter. The abundance of ice presents a more reflective surface with which to bounce radar signals from. The length of time it takes to receive these signals once they are sent determines the height of the ice.

While conducting these tests on their satellites radar altimeter, ESA found some surprising news. The measurements from their 2010-2011 campaigns show the height of Antarctic ice to be an average of 9 cm higher than the measurements from their 2008-2009 campaigns.

To corroborate these findings, scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute also took measurements of the blue ice region. Using an aircraft equipped with instruments built to simulate CryoSat´s radar altimeter, the Alfred Wegener team compiled their data and shared it with ESA. After analyzing each set of data from each campaign, the scientists were able to determine the changes in height of the ice for three different periods.

According to the press release, there was a 5 cm drop from 1991-2000. This downward slope continued until 2008. Then, the 2008-2010 period began to show an unexpected increase in the height of ice.

Reinhard Dietrick from TU Dresden told the ESA “This interesting result showing the reversal in height is thanks to the campaigns before the launch of CryoSat in 2010.”

“The results are, of course, preliminary but with this reversal in mind, it would be very interesting to see if the increase in height remains in the future.”

ESA does not yet have information explaining why the ice height has increased, but are encouraged at the possible upward trend.

CryoSat is now on the move and will begin a new campaign to the other end of the planet. This week, teams from the ESA, NASA, and Europe and Canada will meet in the high Arctic to measure lice from the land and the air. CryoSat will fly high above them, corroborating their measurements and sending the results back to Earth.

This is good news for the ESA, who is on their second attempt to continue the CryoSat campaign. The first satellite was launched in 1999 to carry out research from ESA´s Living Planet program. The original satellite, however, was lost due to launch failure in October 2005. Building upon existing knowledge and making several improvements along the way, the ESA launched CryoSat-2 on April 8, 2010, according to ESA.int.


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