NASA Gets New Eye to Watch Earth’s Ice Melt


If everything goes as planned today, climate scientists will have a new satellite in the sky to keep a close watch on the melting of Earth’s ice. The new satellite, called ICESat-2, is scheduled to launch in California at 5:46 a.m. Pacific time. The launch will be shown live on nasa.gov.

The satellite’s predecessor, ICESat, launched in 2003 and operated until 2009. Since then, NASA has been taking measurements from airplanes flying over Greenland and Antarctica.

The old satellite measured the elevation of Earth’s ice with a single laser beam, while the new ICESat-2 has six, firing 10,000 times a second. These pulses of light is what gives this satellite astonishing precision. While ICESat took measurements that were spaced apart over the length of a football field, ICESat-2 will measure between each yard line.

NASA says it will be able to measure the change in elevation of the ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland to about the width of a pencil. These precise measurements will allow scientists to develop a better sense of how much and how quickly the ice is melting in a warming world.

It is already known that melting of stored ice is increasing sea levels by 2 millimeters a year. However, these new measurements will shed light on the effects of fresh water on things like ocean currents.

The discovery that results from this project is expected to power research for years to come.

[via New York Times]

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