NASA to Launch Space Laser to Measure Earth’S Polar Ice (Download PDF)


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NASA is preparing to launch its $1 billion (abt Rs. 7,210 cr. ) ICESat-2 mission, using advanced lasers to uncover true depth of melting of Earth’s ice sheets. Satellite mission, called ICESat-2 should provide more precise information on how these frozen surfaces are being affected by global warming.

Img of NASA to Launch Space Laser to Measure Earth’s Polar Ice

Img of NASA to Launch Space Laser to Measure Earth’s Polar Ice

Image of NASA to Launch Space Laser to Measure Earth’s Polar Ice

Background of ICESat-2

  • ICESat-2 is follow-on project.

  • Original spacecraft flew in 2000s & pioneered laser measurement of height of polar glaciers & sea-ice from space.

  • Mission was plagued by technical problems that limited its observations to just 2 months in every year.

About ICESat- 2 Mission

  • ICESat-2 will measure average annual elevation change of land ice covering Greenland & Antarctica to w/i width of pencil, capturing 60,000 measurements every second.

  • ICESat-2’s Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) measures height by timing how long it takes individual light photons to travel from spacecraft to Earth & back.

Satellite mission has 4 science objectives:

  • Measure melting ice sheets & investigate how this effects sea level rise.

  • Measure & investigate changes in mass of ice sheets & glaciers.

  • Estimate & study sea ice thickness.

  • Measure height of vegetation in forests & other ecosystems worldwide.

How ATLAS Works?

  • ATLAS will fire 10,000 times each second, sending hundreds of trillions of photons to ground in 6 beams of green light.

  • With so many photons returning from multiple beams, ICESat-2 will get much more detailed view of ice surface than its predecessor.

  • As it circles Earth from pole to pole, ICESat-2 will measure ice heights along same path in Polar Regions 4 times year, providing seasonal & annual monitoring of ice elevation changes.

  • Beyond poles, ICESat-2 will also measure height of ocean & land surfaces, including forests.

Significance of Mission

  • ICESat-2 will improve upon NASA’s 15-year record of monitoring change in polar ice heights.

  • It started in 2003 w/1st ICESat mission & continued in 2009 w/NASA’s Operation Ice Bridge, airborne research campaign that kept track of accelerating rate of change.

  • New observational technologies of ICESat-2 will advance knowledge of how ice sheets of Greenland & Antarctica contribute to sea level rise.

Importance of the Mission

  • Antarctica & Greenland lose billions of tonnes of ice every year –result largely of warm water being able to melt land glaciers where they meet ocean. This wastage is slowly but surely pushing up sea-levels worldwide.

  • In Arctic, seasonal floes are in retreat. Sea-ice in far north is thought to have lost 2/3rd of its volume since 1980s.

  • This has no direct impact on height of oceans, reduced ice-cover is working to amplify temperature rises in region.

National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA)

  • Formed in 1958,59 years ago.

  • Headquarter – Washington, U. S.

  • Led by – Jim Bridenstine

  • Motto – to reach for new heights & reveal unknown for benefit of humankind.

- Published/Last Modified on: November 14, 2018

Science/Technology, Environment/Ecology, Space/ISRO

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