ESA satellite reveals thickness of Arctic sea-ice in near-real time

The CryoSat mission obtains continuous radar readings of the sea-ice thickness.
By Andrew McDonald | Apr 17, 2015
According to a European Space Agency statement, measurements of Arctic sea-ice thickness from the CryoSat mission are being made available within two days of acquisition. This extremely quick turn-around time has been achieved in collaboration with the United Kingdom's Centre for Polar Observation.

Last week, CryoSat attained five years in Earth orbit, the first mission to produce complete maps of the thickness of Arctic sea-ice. CryoSat's radar altimeter penetrates clouds and nighttime darkness to continuously measure sea-ice thickness. CryoSat's capabilities are essential as the Arctic becomes more economically important and more research is done there.

CryoSat's ability to furnish near-real time data were tested in spring 2014, during an experiment centered north of Greenland. The ability will be tested again next week by experiments in Norway's Svalbard Archipelago carried out by the Norwegian Polar Institute's Young Sea Ice mission.

The latest round of measurements from CryoSat reveal that the sea-ice surrounding the Svalbard Archipelago is only half as thick as it was during the winter of 2011; now, the ice is only a meter thick. Warming ocean water, in this case that of the Barents Sea, has had profound effects on Svalbard's Austfonna ice cap. In addition to the accelerated retreat of the sea-ice, glaciers are now moving faster than ever before.

"After five years of exploitation, CryoSat has provided important answers but also has exposed our lack of knowledge on several fundamental scientific questions," said CryoSat Mission Manager Tommaso Parrinello. "Similarly, CryoSat has shown the importance of its measurements for current and future operational and forecasting services on all Arctic latitudes, paving the way for the development of similar missions in future."

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