ESA and NASA join forces in climate mission to measure thickness of Antarctic sea-ice

The two satellites being used for the project are expected to produce better results together owing to their different capabilities.


The European Space Agency (ESA) and its American equivalent National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have teamed up in an effort to measure the sea-ice thickness of Antarctica.

The space agencies have decided to carry out the mission it by lining up two satellites designed for the job – Europe's CryoSat-2 spacecraft and ICESat-2 mission, reported BBC.

At present, the old climatology models used to gauge the likely depth of snow cover work reasonably well in the north, but they don’t yield expected results in the south.

The orbit of CryoSat-2 spacecraft has been raised by just under one kilometer. This will allow the spacecraft to increase the number of coincident observations with ICESat-2 mission.

Currently, the floating sheets of ice in the far south present some difficulties while measuring their vertical dimension. Heavy snow that piles on top of the floating ice hides its thickness. If the piled up snow is significant in amount, it can even push Antarctic sea-ice under the water.

The partnership between the ESA and NASA will streamline the process of measuring the sea-ice thickness of the Antarctic. The two satellites being used for the project are expected to produce better results due to their different capabilities.

ICESat-2 uses a laser to measure the distance to the Earth's surface. In this process, it measures the height of objects. The satellite currently orbits the Earth at an altitude of 500km. On the other hand, CryoSat-2, which is a 720km orbital altitude, makes use of radar to measure height. It penetrates much more deeply into the snow cover than laser before bouncing back.

"In future, we will more accurately be able to estimate the snow cover and therefore more accurately estimate the sea-ice thickness. In the Arctic, it will reduce our errors. In the Antarctic, I don't think we really know yet just how cool this could be," BBC quoted NASA radar and laser altimetry scientist Dr Rachel Tilling as saying.

According to Climate.gov, Antarctic sea ice usually attains its annual maximum extent in mid- to late-September, and reaches its annual minimum in late February or early March.

The surface of the ocean around Antarctica freezes over in the winter and melts back each summer.


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