Earth from space: Ice in motion

Oct 04, 2013
Clouds blur our view of the snow below in parts of this image acquired over the southern tip of Greenland by the Landsat-8 satellite on 30 May 2013. Long fjords reach far inland and, zooming in on the tips of some of their  'fingers', we can see ice streams that drain the Greenland ice sheet. In the lower part of the image, white dots speckle the North Atlantic Ocean, like stars in the night sky. These are icebergs that – although they appear insignificant in this image – pose a major threat to ships. Credit: USGS/ESA

Clouds blur our view of the snow below in parts of this image acquired over the southern tip of Greenland by the Landsat-8 satellite on 30 May.

Long fjords reach far inland and, zooming in on the tips of some of their 'fingers', we can see ice streams that drain the Greenland .

Covering more than 2 000 000 sq km, Greenland is the world's largest island and home to the second largest ice sheet after Antarctica. The ice sheet is so massive that, if it were to melt, global sea levels would rise by an estimated 7 m. It is therefore crucial to monitor the mass of ice sheets and how fast they are melting.

Satellites are the perfect for this task. Radars on satellites are particularly suited for monitoring polar regions because they can acquire images through any weather conditions, day or night.

In a study published last year, scientists used data from 10 different satellite missions to produce the most accurate assessment ever of ice losses from Greenland and Antarctica. They discovered that the rate of ice sheet melting is increasing.

The study showed that many areas in Greenland – especially along the coast – are losing up to one metre of ice thickness per year. This loss of ice is one of the major contributors to sea-level rise.

Between 1992 and 2012, Greenland alone was responsible for adding about 7 mm to the average .

In the lower part of the image, white dots speckle the North Atlantic Ocean, like stars in the night sky. These are icebergs that – although they appear insignificant in this image – pose a major threat to ships.

This is another area where satellites can step in. Satellite radars supplement aerial surveys of icebergs to help steer vessels away from a potential collision.

Data from the upcoming Sentinel-1 mission, being developed by ESA for Europe's Copernicus programme, will be used for operational monitoring.

Explore further: Mathematician uses skills to study Greenland's retreating glaciers (w/ Video)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

Apr 18, 2014

A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday, sending panicked people into the streets. Some walls cracked and fell, but there were no reports of major damage or casualties.

User comments : 0

More news stories

China says massive area of its soil polluted

A huge area of China's soil covering more than twice the size of Spain is estimated to be polluted, the government said Thursday, announcing findings of a survey previously kept secret.

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...