CryoSat-2 exceeding expectations

Jul 01, 2010
One of CryoSat-2's first synthetic aperture radar data images shows a track across central Antarctica -- an area never before charted by satellite. The fine structure in the ice surface, which would be blurred in data acquired by a conventional radar altimeter, is clearly visible. Credit: ESA

Today, participants at the Living Planet Symposium have been hearing about ESA's most recently launched mission, CryoSat-2. In orbit for almost three months, the satellite is in excellent health with scientists very encouraged by the first ice-thickness data presented at the symposium.

Prof. Duncan Wingham, Lead Investigator for the CryoSat mission, stated, "The satellite is in very good shape - exceeding in-orbit specifications, the ground segment software is fine, the system of data distribution looks good and we are excited by the quality of data being received.
"It is extremely rewarding to see the theoretical idea we had for an ice mission 10 years ago now coming to fruition."

was launched last April, so the satellite and instruments are still being commissioned, a process that will continue until the autumn. Nevertheless, scientists and users are very excited by the first data, which already show the fine detail of the ice surface.

These data also demonstrate the added coverage that CryoSat-2 delivers. The satellite's orbit brings it closer to the poles than earlier observation satellites, covering an additional 4.6 million sq km - an area larger than all 27 European Union member states put together.

CryoSat is Europe's first mission dedicated to monitoring Earth's ice fields. The satellite carries the first radar altimeter of its kind to overcome the difficulties of measuring icy surfaces.

Its primary payload, the sophisticated SAR/Interferometric (SIRAL), can measure the thickness of sea ice down to centimetres and monitor changes in the ice sheets on land, particularly around the edges where icebergs are calved from the vast ice sheets that blanket Greenland and Antarctica.

Together with information on ice extent, these measurements will show how the volume of Earth's ice is changing and lead to a better understanding of the relationship between ice and .

"We have had some hiccups with the science data processor - after all, a radar like this has never flown in space before. But we've shaken most of these out now and the results are looking very good," said CryoSat-2 Project Manager Richard Francis.

"In particular the resolution of this system is amazing. We can see lots of detail in this track over part of Antarctica, made on the day the SIRAL instrument was first switched on."

It was also announced today that orbit data from the Doppler Orbit and Radio Positioning Integration by Satellite (DORIS) radio receiver will be released in early July.

DORIS is a tracking system carried by CryoSat-2 to detect and measure the Doppler shift on signals broadcast from a network of radio beacons around the world. These signals are used for orbit determination, down to millimetre level and essential for accurately measuring the height of the ice surface.

Since the data from DORIS have been validated and shown to be excellent, they are being released to the community before the end of commissioning.

Now half-way through commissioning, CryoSat-2 is clearly well on track to delivering the precise data on ice-thickness change that are much-needed to provide a better insight into what is happening to Earth's ice cover as a result of climate change.

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User comments : 7

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GSwift7
5 / 5 (1) Jul 01, 2010
Finally good unambiguous data on ice volumes. Now all we need is a few decades of continuous observation so that we can filter out seasonal variations, solar variations, weather variations, tidal effects, techtonic effects, etc.
TegiriNenashi
3 / 5 (2) Jul 01, 2010
Two decades time length choice is arbitrary. There certainly would be papers with analysis within 3 years. Alas, it missed the chance to debunk sea ice thickness argument after infamous 2007 Arctic ice minimum. With increased precision GW alarmists would find much less room for maneuver and fear mongering. Still, there is no doubt they would come up with something -- humans are very inventive.
thermodynamics
3 / 5 (2) Jul 01, 2010
Tegiri: What "infamous 2007 Arctic ice minimum" thickness argument are you taking about? I recall the minimum, but I do not recall any "debunking" or the minimum being "infamous."
TegiriNenashi
5 / 5 (1) Jul 01, 2010
Well the 2007 story evolved like this. First, the lowest area was recorded and trumpeted all over the media. Wild prediction of summer sea ice gone extinct in 5 years were made. Then, next year, with ice area partially recovered, warmists shifted the emphasis to volume (1st year vs. multiyear ice). Now that nothing drastic happening with ice thickness, the story is about the fastest melting rate! We urgently need a satellite that measures sea ice derivatives: both for area and thickness.
thermodynamics
3 / 5 (2) Jul 01, 2010
Tegiri: Take a look at where the ice is now and what has been happening with it:

http://nsidc.org/...icenews/

I actually find myself in agreement with you on the wild predictions of total sea ice disappearing in the short term. However, There is a clear trend (with typical weather shifts) toward less sea ice in the arctic. There has been a lot learned about sea ice since 2007 and the measurements are getting better. As for nothing drastic happening - the ice area continues to decline in the arctic. I consider that pretty interesting, if not drastic.
GSwift7
5 / 5 (1) Jul 02, 2010
There are a lot more wild claims than just that one, but lots of people don't know a wild claim when they see one. For example, if you read the home page of the Environmental Defense Fund there are several questionable statements ranging from obvious omissions to oversimplifications and even unethical presentation of editorial as fact. Most people reading that web site would come away with a very misguided impression of the facts. The NOAA web site is much better, but still tainted by political beauracracy. At least NOAA does a more thorough job of presenting fact and limiting opinion. They still have a problem with disclosing uncertainties within their data though.
thermodynamics
3 / 5 (2) Jul 02, 2010
GSwift7: You make a great point about the lack of uncertainties in the presented data. Take a look at one of the source sites:

http://psc.apl.wa...lume.php

The UW site actually lists a number of technical papers in its reference section that are available as PDF files. In these they spell out the uncertainty. However, there is no excuse for NSIDC to leave them out of the page they present. As for the EDF site, I think we can all ignore them as biased (just like sites for the other perspective). It could be argued since they point to the UW site and the UW site has the papers with uncertainties then uncertainites are included by reference. Likewise they also point at raw data at:

http://rkwok.jpl....orm.html

Fill in the blanks and be inundated by raw data where you can generate your own uncertainties based on statistical analysis. So, I think the NOAA site just requires digging.