June 21, 2011

CryoSat Provides First Ice-Thickness Map Of Earth

The European Space Agency (ESA) released the first map of sea-ice thickness from its CryoSat mission Tuesday at the Paris Air and Space Show.

The CryoSat spacecraft sits at an altitude of 434 miles above the Earth delivering precise measurements to study changes in the thickness of Earth's ice.

ESA said that in order to fully understand how climate change is affecting the polar regions there is a need to determine exactly how the thickness of the ice is changing.

CryoSat initially launched in 2005, but the original satellite was lost due to a launch failure.

The newest satellite launched in April 2010 and now it has produced a map of the Earth's ice thickness.

Duncan Wingham, from the National Space Institute at the Technical University of Denmark, said while presenting the map at the Le Bourget air and space show:  "A new mission is always risky. There's quite a long wait and then everyone gets to see if it really can deliver.

"What's really nice about these results is that they show not only that the hardware is really excellent "“ which we already knew "“ but that it can deliver the geophysical information we need too.

"It's a credit to the teams at ESA and UCL who have worked really hard and I'm very happy with these new results."

The satellite measures the height of the sea ice above the water line to calculate the thickness.  The measurements used to generate this first map of the Arctic were from January and February 2011.

The new map shows the lineations in the central Arctic that reflect the ice's response to wind stress.

"This major result comes just one year after launch. It is another important step towards achieving one of the primary objectives of the mission; namely, to determine how much the sea ice in the Arctic is thinning in response to a changing climate," Volker Liebig, ESA's Director of Earth Observation Programs, said at the event.

CryoSat also offers an ice map of Antarctica for the first time from space.

ESA said details of the edge of the ice sheet where it meets the ocean can be closely monitored due to the satellite's sophisticated radar techniques.

"It is very satisfying to see these exciting results," ESA's Richard Francis, who was the CryoSat-2 Project Manager during its development, said in a statement.

"It has taken about ten years to convert the initial proposal into a flying mission: ten years of hard work and dedication from a core team of less than a hundred people, ably assisted with crucial expertise from a few hundred more."

ESA's CryoSat Mission Manager, Tommaso Parrinello, said in a statement, "These first results are very exciting as we begin to see the mission's potential realized.

"The coming months will be dedicated to completing the picture to gain better insight into how polar ice is changing."


Image 1: ESA's Earth Explorer CryoSat mission is dedicated to precise monitoring of changes in the thickness of marine ice floating in the polar oceans and variations in the thickness of the vast ice sheets that blanket Greenland and Antarctica. Credits: ESA"“AOES Medialab

Image 2: CryoSat's exceptionally detailed data have been used to generate this map of sea-ice thickness in the Arctic. Data from January and February this year have been used to show the thickness of the ice as it approaches its annual maximum. Thanks to CryoSat's orbit, ice thickness close to the North Pole can be seen for the first time. Credits: CPOM/UCL/ESA


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