Topic 3d - Looking at Ice

In this video Professor Andrew Shepherd explains the importance of monitoring the cryosphere from space, and introduces the range of satellite microwave techniques which are exploited for providing information on Earth’s ice sheets shape, motion and mass. Professor Shepherd also explores some of the first highly detailed datasets that CryoSat-2 has collected, which have vastly advanced our understanding of ice sheet behaviour.

Ice sheets are major components of the cryosphere, places where water is in its solid form, frozen into ice or snow. In order to monitor the variability of the cryosphere and to learn how it is affected by climate change, it is essential that we collect frequent and accurate measurements of its ever evolving state. Earth observation provides unprecedented access to the polar regions, some of the most remote and hostile regions of the planet. This is where the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are located, which collectively contain over 99% of all the surface freshwater on Earth. If this ice were to melt, it has the potential to contribute greatly to global sea level rise, but the details of how this could occur are dependent upon many factors.

Satellite EO allows us to gather continuous, comparable information about the dynamics and behaviour of our ice sheets, and by using microwave radar remote sensing we can do this even through clouds. ESA’s CryoSat-2 satellite, launched in 2010, uses an advanced radar altimeter (the SIRAL instrument) to record ice surface height measurements at extremely high levels of detail. This data is used to determine variations in the thickness of sea ice cover but also the topography of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, in order to assess how these regions are changing and contributing to global sea level rise.

Featured Educators:

  • Professor Andrew Shepherd

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