New Arctic Ice Thickness Map is Revealed

CryoSat’s exceptionally detailed data have been used to generate this map of sea-ice thickness in the Arctic. Data from January and February this year have been used to show the thickness of the ice as it approaches its annual maximum. Thanks to CryoSat’s orbit, ice thickness close to the North Pole can be seen for the first time.

In 1998 a group of scientists proposed a mission known as CryoSat to study the planet’s poles. In 2005 the first satellite was lost due to a launch failure. However, at the 2011 Paris Air and Space Show, the first map of sea-ice thickness from ESA’s CryoSat mission was revealed, and has gone far beyond what was expected.

CryoSat travels at just over 700 kilometres above the surface and reaches unprecedented latitudes of 88º as it traverses the planet, as can be seen in the video. The satellite has spent the last 7 months studying the changes in the thickness of the polar ice caps, providing further data on a subject which has already been revealed to be dire.


“A new mission is always risky. There’s quite a long wait and then everyone gets to see if it really can deliver,” said Professor Duncan Wingham from University College London. “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.”

Wingham, along with Volker Liebig, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes and René Forsberg from the National Space Institute at the Technical University of Denmark, presented the map at the Le Bourget air and space show on Tuesday.

According to the ESA, “CryoSat measures the height of the sea ice above the water line, known as the freeboard, to calculate the thickness.” The measurements which provided the first map were gathered between January and February of 2011, and provided data which were much more detailed than had originally been conceived for the mission.

“This major result comes just one year after launch,” said Professor Liebig. “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.”

“It is very satisfying to see these exciting results,” said ESA’s Richard Francis, who was the CryoSat-2 Project Manager during its development. “It has taken about ten years to convert the initial proposal into a flying mission: ten years of hard work and dedication from a core team of less than a hundred people, ably assisted with crucial expertise from a few hundred more.”

“These first results are very exciting as we begin to see the mission’s potential realised,” ESA’s CryoSat Mission Manager, Tommaso Parrinello, added. “The coming months will be dedicated to completing the picture to gain better insight into how polar ice is changing.”

Source: European Space Agency

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