CryoSat-2 finally delivers the deepest look yet at polar ice
In late February, the European Space Agency will get a second chance to launch a satellite designed to take the most sensitive measurements yet of sea ice and glaciers. In 2005, the launch rocket failed to separate and brought the original CryoSat satellite crashing into the Arctic Ocean. After a $207-million do-over, CryoSat-2 should be releasing data by September, says Mark Drinkwater, head of the ESA Mission Science Division. During its three and a half years in orbit, CryoSat-2 will amass data on the polar ice every 30 days from an altitude of 445 miles, recording centimeter-size changes in ice thickness by measuring the ice's height with microwaves. Because microwaves penetrate clouds better than the infrared used on NASA's ICESat, the satellite will offer unprecedented tracking of cloud-covered regions like Greenland. "I think that the effects of climate change are felt most in terms of the changes in the polar ice masses," Drinkwater says. Pinpointing their thickness will help climate scientists make better computer models to predict polar temperatures, ocean circulation and, perhaps most important for those of us on the rest of the planet, rising sea levels.