First map of Arctic sea-ice thickness revealed

Scientists have revealed the first map of sea-ice thickness from ESA`s CryoSat mission.

Washington: Scientists have revealed the first map of sea-ice thickness from ESA`s CryoSat mission, and the new information is set to change our understanding of the complex relationship between ice and climate.

A group of scientists together with Prof. Duncan Wingham from University College London proposed the CryoSat mission to ESA in 1998 to fully understand how climate change is affecting the fragile Polar Regions.

From an altitude of just over 700 km and reaching unprecedented latitudes of 88 degrees, CryoSat has spent the last seven months delivering precise measurements to study changes in the thickness of Earth`s ice.

Volker Liebig, ESA`s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, Duncan Wingham and Rene Forsberg from the National Space Institute at the Technical University of Denmark, presented the results 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," Wingham said.

"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," he stated.

CryoSat measures the height of the sea ice above the water line, known as the freeboard, to calculate the thickness. The measurements used to generate this first map of the Arctic were from January and February 2011, as the ice approaches its annual maximum.

"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," Liebig said.

In addition, detail of edges of the ice sheet where it meets the ocean can now be closely monitored thanks to CryoSat`s sophisticated radar techniques. This is important because this is where changes are occurring.

"These first results are very exciting as we begin to see the mission`s potential realised," ESA`s CryoSat Mission Manager, Tommaso Parrinello, said.

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


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