Latest Polar Ice Observations seen through Europe’s Cryosat Mission

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Cryosat’s map of Arctic sea ice thickness, April 2011. Source: CPOM/UCL/ESA.
Cryosat’s map of Arctic sea ice thickness, April 2011. Source: CPOM/UCL/ESA.

Cryosat’s map of Arctic sea ice thickness, April 2011. Source: CPOM/UCL/ESA.

Coinciding with the U.K.’s 50th Anniversary of space activity, a recent European Space Agency (ESA) update on the Cryosat mission demonstrates the full potential of ESA’s first mission dedicated to the study of ice in detecting annual variations and dramatic changes in the Arctic.
The announcement of the high resolution map generated from the radar altimeter, along with a digital elevation model (DEM) of Greenland, was presented at the Royal Society in London, a joint effort between ESA and the U.K. Space Agency.
Cryosat’s altimeter measures the height by which the ice extends above the water surface in order to detect annual variations.
Since its launch in 2010, scientists have been working to calibrate and validate the data with a combination of airborne instruments and in-situ measurements.
In June 2011, the Cryosat team, led from University College London, revealed the first map of Arctic sea-ice thickness using data acquired from January and February of the same year.
The most recent update from ESA presents a seasonal variation map of sea-ice thickness, processed from the complete 2010-2011 winter season map.


Professor Volker Liebig, director of Earth Observation at ESA, announced that “Cryosat is working extremely well. Its data are very reliable and the measurements we have match reality.” Dr. Liebig told the BBC News “we now have a very powerful tool to monitor the changes taking place at the poles.”
Containing about 7.5 million points, the DEM of Greenland also demonstrates Cryosat’s capabilities in capturing the details of the ice sheets in higher resolution than previous satellite measurements, using its interferometric mode to discern intricate sea ice sheet surface characteristics. As the main payload, the Synthetic Aperture Interferometric Radar Altimeter (SIRAL) is the first radar altimeter designed for ice.
The future for Cryosat continues with the precise mapping of yearly changes in sea-ice thickness in the Arctic, in an effort to better understand the effects of climate change over the region.
For more information, visit ESA and the BBC News on Cryosat’s update on the high precision views of Arctic sea ice.