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Latest CryoSat result announced

25 Apr 2012


After nearly a year and a half of operations, CryoSat has yielded its first seasonal variation map of Arctic sea-ice thickness. Results from ESA’s ice mission were presented at the Royal Society in London.


Animation of changes in sea ice thickness.

In June 2011, the first map of Arctic sea-ice thickness was unveiled. The map was derived using CryoSat data acquired between January and February of that same year.

Now, the complete 2010–11 winter season data have been processed to produce a seasonal variation map of sea-ice thickness.

This is the first map of its kind generated using data from a radar altimeter at such a high resolution compared to previous satellite-based instruments.

CryoSat’s Synthetic Aperture Interferometric Radar Altimeter provides precise measurements of the satellite’s height above ice by measuring the time interval between the transmission and reception of very short electromagnetic pulses.

Data acquired over the Arctic from October 2010 to March 2011 were processed to map the seasonal formation of floating ice.

ESA and NASA have been collaborating to perform carefully coordinated flights directly under CryoSat’s orbit over the Arctic, gathering data to ensure the accuracy of the satellite measurements.

This first validated CryoSat dataset demonstrates the full potential of this innovative ice mission.

The map, along with a full digital elevation model of Greenland and other scientific results from the collaborative European mission, were presented today at the Royal Society in London.

The event was jointly organised by ESA and the UK Space Agency as part of the wider celebration of the 50th anniversary of the UK in space.

Animation of CryoSat in orbit.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts who attended the event, said:

“The pioneering CryoSat mission is making a vital contribution to our understanding of climate change, and shows why earth observation research is so important. The project is also a great example of European collaboration, and I’m especially proud that Britain has made such a significant contribution to the project through our leading universities and space technology companies.”

Director of ESA’s Earth Observation Programmes, Volker Liebig, outlined the dramatic effects that climate change has had on the Arctic, and how satellites have been monitoring sea-ice for over 30 years.

"In the coming years, the Arctic will become a very important geo-political region," said Prof. Liebig. "15 to 20 per cent of the world’s oil and gas reserves are expected there, and we will find shorter shipping routes as the ice melts. Satellites will play and ever-important role in the sustainable management of this sensitive region."

Every year, the Arctic Ocean experiences the seasonal formation and then melting of vast amounts of floating ice. Over the past decade, satellites have seen an acceleration in the rate of overall sea ice loss.

The ice can be measured by different types of satellite data. Radars on satellites such as ESA’s CryoSat can acquire high-resolution images through clouds and darkness. This is particularly useful when observing the inaccessible Arctic, which is also prone to long periods of bad weather and extended darkness.

In the coming years, CryoSat data will be used to map precise changes in sea ice thickness year to year, furthering our understanding of the effects that climate change has on the Arctic. ESA’s SMOS mission is providing complementary information on sea-ice cover and the thickness of thin ice.

The CryoSat mission is greatly contributing to the scientific aspects of ESA’s Earth Observation Envelope Programme, which will come under review at the ESA Ministerial Council meeting in November. Earth Observation is one of the strengths of the thriving UK space sector, and one that is proving increasingly vital to understanding the complex Earth system. British research facilities are leading the data analysis for Cryosat with 12 universities and 6 institutions involved located in the UK. After fifty years of involvement in space the UK space sector is a world leader in space science, innovative technology and applications development.

For more information please contact:

Madeleine Russell
Press Officer
UK Space Agency
Tel: +44 (0)1793 418069

I work in space

Ian Whittaker I work as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Otago.

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