Europe's CryoSat Mission Gives Scientists Better Look At Earth's Ice
December 21, 2012

Europe’s CryoSat Mission Gives Scientists Better Look At Earth’s Ice

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

The European Space Agency's (ESA) ice mission is giving scientists a better look at oceans, coastal areas, inland water bodies and land.

The orbiting CryoSat launched in 2010 and was developed to measure the changes in the thickness of polar sea ice, the elevation of ice sheets that blanket Greenland and Antarctica, and mountain glaciers.

The satellite's radar altimeter not only detects tiny variations in the height of the ice, but also measures sea level and the sea ice's height above water to derive sea-ice thickness with an unprecedented accuracy.

CryoSat's measurements of sea level helped to improve the quality of the model forecasts. The instrument can help detect small, local phenomena in the ocean surface like eddies.

Scientists have now discovered that the altimetry readings have the potential to map sea level closer to the coast, and offer even greater capabilities to profile land surfaces and inland water targets like small lakes, rivers and their intricate tributaries.

Radar altimeters have a difficulty doing this because the landscape surrounding inland water bodies is a lot more complex. These have not been previously monitored before by conventional altimeters because the sensor footprints were too large to detect subtle differences. CryoSat is helping to change this.

The ESA instrument recently began scientific exploitation projects coined "CryoSat+" in order to thoroughly investigate the possibilities offered by the instrument.

Scientists are sifting through large sets of data coming directly from CryoSat to obtain new information about oceans, inland water bodies and land.

CryoSat's altimeter made readings over central Cuba, extending north and south into the surrounding water.

“Thanks to CryoSat being operated over some inland water targets in high resolution mode, we were able to distinctly chart the contours of a flood that occurred last March at Rio Negro in the Amazon,” Salvatore Dinardo, working for ESA on CryoSat+, said in a statement.

Jérôme Benveniste, the ESA scientist who initiated the project, said that the team was able to emphasize the capability of CryoSat to see the floodwater extend under the forest canopy, where optical sensors or imaging radars are blocked by trees.