April 7, 2010

Ice Monitoring Satellite Set For Thursday Launch

The European Space Agency (ESA) is preparing to launch a satellite that should provide insight into the effect of climate change on the thickness of polar marine ice.

CryoSat-2, which will launch on April 8 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, will monitor ice packs in Greenland and Antarctica from a height of approximately 435 miles in the air. Using the data obtained from the satellite, ESA scientists are hoping to find out just what kind of affect global warming is having on the polar ice formations.

"We hope to find out more about the role the sea ice plays for the climate system and more about the height of the land ice," co-project director Heinrich Miller told Verena Schmitt-Roschmann of the Associated Press (AP) in a phone interview. "We know that it is dwindling but we don't know exactly what mechanisms are at work."

The CryoSat mission dates back to 2005, when the first model of the climate monitoring satellite was lost due to rocket failure. The following year, work began on a second version of the module, CryoSat-2. It was originally scheduled to be launched in 2009, but delays pushed back its departure date to this month. The project cost more than $187 million, according to ESA estimates.

ESA officials told Schmitt-Roschmann that CryoSat-2 is "most sophisticated ever to investigate the Earth's ice fields" and predicted that it will operate for at least three to five years.

CryoSat-2 is the third satellite in the ESA's "Earth Explorers" series. The first was the Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE), which was launched in March 2009 and is in the midst of studying changes to the gravity field. The second was the Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) satellite, which is observing solid moisture and oceanic salinity from above the Earth's surface.


Image Caption: ESA's Earth Explorer CryoSat mission is dedicated to precise monitoring of the changes in the thickness of marine ice floating in the polar oceans and variations in the thickness of the vast ice sheets that overlay Greenland and Antarctica. Credits: ESA - AOES Medialab


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