CryoSat Releases First Sea Ice Thickness Map

At a presentation that took place today, June 21, at the Paris Air and Space Show, managers for the CryoSat mission presented the satellite's first products. These included its first map of sea ice thickness.

Scientists have great expectations of this spacecraft, which is one of the most advanced of its type. The international community hopes that the data it will send back will shed more light on the intricate relationships governing ices and climate.

The ESA Director of Earth Observation Programs, Volker Liebig, and National Space Institute at the Technical University of Denmark experts Duncan Wingham and René Forsberg made the presentation.

They praised the efforts and successes made and achieved by this important mission, which was first proposed back in 1998, by the Wingham, who was then based at the University College London (UCL).

Though the European Space Agency (ESA) decided to act on the proposal and launch the CryoSat mission, the first attempt failed during launch, back in 2005. For the next 5 years, experts worked hard to build the new spacecraft.

Currently orbiting Earth at an altitude of 700 kilometers, the new CryoSat was launched in April 2010, and swiftly got to work. Its abilities are augmented by the fact that it reaches latitudes of 88º, which is unprecedented among ice missions.

Its mission is “to determine exactly how the thickness of the ice is changing,” an ESA press release says. It does so by analyzing how much ice extends upwards from the water line, experts add.

“A new mission is always risky. There's quite a long wait and then everyone gets to see if it really can deliver. “What's really nice about these results is that they show not only that the hardware is really excellent […], but that it can deliver the geophysical information we need too,” Wingham explained.

“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,” the expert said. He added that CryoSat data covering January and February 2011 were used to put together a first whole image of sea ice thickness in the Arctic.

“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.

CryoSat is currently working to produce a similar map for Antarctica. The effort is already well underway, and only a few months of observations are needed to complete the necessary databases.

“It is very satisfying to see these exciting results,” concluded the CryoSat development team manager, ESA expert Richard Francis.

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