CryoSat – ESA’s eye on Earth's ice
1 April 2010
ESA is about to launch the most advanced satellite ever to measure Earth’s ice cover. The CryoSat mission has come back from the dead after the first satellite was lost as the result of a launcher failure in October 2005. Now the new, improved, CryoSat-2 is ready for lift-off on 8 April. It will be placed into a polar orbit, 700 km above Earth, by a Russian Dnepr rocket to be launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Ice cover has been mapped from space for many years by satellites such as Envisat. Recent record lows in the area covered by Arctic sea ice in the summer indicate that significant changes are taking place at the top of the world. But this does not tell the whole story of how climate change may be affecting the polar regions. Scientists are also keen to find out how the thickness of the ice is changing. Ice sheets on the land are many kilometres deep. If they begin to disappear, there could be large rises in sea level, with flooding of coastal areas, including major cities.
CryoSat is the ideal ice observer. It carries an all-weather microwave radar instrument that picks up the echoes of brief radar pulses bounced off the surface of the ice. The instrument can measure with great accuracy any variations in the thickness of ice floating on the polar oceans. It will also keep a close watch on the vast ice sheets that blanket Greenland and Antarctica. Over the next three to five years, the satellite will detect changes as small as one centimetre per year.