Polar Ice Caps Melting Data

Scientific Data about Polar Ice Caps Melting

Scientific data about polar ice caps melting as never been more important than it is today.

The polar ice sheets covering the North and South Poles have long been the subject of intense scientific interest, but in recent years, study of the Earth’s polar ice has taken on a much more urgent tone. The reason is climate change, or what some call global warming.

There can be no doubt that whether it’s through natural or human-generated causes – or both – the average temperature of the planet is heating up. Global warming means polar ice has been melting in recent years at rates unequaled for thousands of years.

Research station in antartica

Research station in antartica

Because of the world-wide effect that polar ice caps melting will have on the environment, governments around the world are spending billions of dollars to study polar ice so that, at the very least, we will have data that will help us plan and prepare for possible large-scale changes if the ice sheets continue to melt rapidly.



Polar Ice Caps Melting Data from Outer Space

One of the most effective ways to study the remote, forbidding regions of the poles is from outer space.

In 2003, NASA launched ICESat which was placed in a polar orbit, and performed intense scans using a variety of instruments. ICESat functioned for seven years before it stopped functioning, forcing NASA to retire it.


But the years of ICESat’s data have added greatly to our understanding of polar ice.

ICESat used something called GLAS — the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System, which used laser technology to gather information both in the visibile light range and also radar-generated data.

ICESat made significant advances in the understanding the changes happening in both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, as well as polar ice thickness. It also provided invaluable data on vegetation canopy heights and the cloud systems above the ice.

Interestingly, ICESat also discovered a previously unknown network of lakes beneath the surface of the Antarctic ice sheet. Another ICESat is scheduled to be launched by NASA in 2016.

European Space Agency Data

The European Space Agency is also currently operating a space-based platform for observing the poles. This is the CryoSat-2 launched in 2010.

It can measure changes in the ice with an amazing resolution of a 1/2 –inch – from outer space! The primary instrument of CryoSat-2 is the SAR/Interferometric Radar Altimeter, which is basically a high-tech form of radar capable of gathering extremely precise measurements of ice thickness.

CryoSat-2 also wields an instrument called DORIS. This stands for Doppler Orbit and Radio Positioning Integration by Satellite. It’s important because this device enables the satellite to tell exactly how far it is from the surface of the earth, which must be known to obtain accurate readings of what it is measuring on the ground.

But studying polar ice from space represents only one tool, or one branch in a wide variety of approaches that must be undertaken to adequately understand the complex geo-dynamics of polar ice. To that end, NASA launched its Operation IceBridge mission in 2011.

NASA Operation IceBridge

This effort involves extensive and frequent flyover of the both polar ice caps using P-3B aircraft, which are loaded with a variety of scientific instruments for scanning the ice. They also probe deep beneath the surface of the ice sheets.

IceBridge flights began in March for the Arctic and in October for the Antarctic. Each series of flights take place almost daily for 10 weeks. What this does is collect enormous amounts of data that give scientists very exact measurements about how much ice is melting, or what thickness levels are in key areas over specified periods of time.

Polar Ice Caps Melting Data Analysis

Gathering the data is only the first aspect of studying polar ice. Once the data is in hand, the real work starts. It’s the job of climate scientists to interpret the data and formulate theories about what it all means. Massive supercomputers are employed to analyze all of the information from a number of angles while bringing is supporting data from a variety of other disciplines.

All of this goes to demonstrate that current theories on climate change and global warming are not mere fantasies cooked up by computer models based on “best guesses” or information gleaned from textbooks.

The study of polar ice is a multi-billion dollar, international effort that is unlocking the secrets of the polar environments like no other time in world history. And it’s not just for fun or “pure science.” This information will have profound and far reaching implications on how all nations of the world prepare for what seems to be dramatic changes in weather and sea levels.


Polar Ice Caps Melting

Related Articles:

The Polar Ice Caps

Global Warming


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply