European Space Agency (ESA) engineers are running the final checks on the agency’s CryoSat satellite, before it is shipped to Russia for an autumn launch. The satellite will spend three years in orbit, monitoring the thickness of the ice sheets at the North Pole pole. Data from submarines suggests that global ice cover is thinning rapidly. Information from CryoSat should help answer the question rather more conclusively.
CryoSat will be measuring two different types of polar ice: sea ice and land-based ice sheets. Both have an impact on local and global weather systems. For example, sea ice affects regional temperatures and ocean currents, while ice sheets can have a direct impact on sea level. On board CryoSat, the SIRAL radar altimeter is capable of measuring the heights of either kind of ice, down to the centimetre. Previous radar altimeters have only been able to provide data on large-scale homogeneous ice surfaces, ESA says.
The SIRAL instrument will also be able to record detailed views of irregular sloping edges of land ice as well as non-homogenous ocean ice. The researchers will use it to measure annual variations in the thickness of the sea ice, as well as the overall change in the larger, land-based ice sheets. Once the final checks are completed, CryoSat will begin its journey to Plesetsk Cosmodrome about 800 km north of Moscow in Russia. There it will be launched into orbit on board a decommissioned intercontinental ballistic missile SS-19 launcher, now known as Rockot.