In September 2018 NASA launched a rocket carrying a specially equipped satellite that comes with advanced optical imaging to scan the plane to assess for ice loss. The satellite is the Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat-2) and it was placed in orbit via a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, which was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The video below shows the rock launch:
The ICESat-2 satellite comes with an Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS). This is a laser measurement apparatus that can assess global ice loss related to climate change. According to NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen: “With this mission we continue humankind’s exploration of the remote polar regions of our planet and advance our understanding of how ongoing changes of Earth’s ice cover at the poles and elsewhere will affect lives around the world, now and in the future.”
The data relating to the ice caps will be made available to the science community. The aim is to help to shape policies that seek to address global warming. The bigger risk comes from Antarctica since this is a massive land mass that is covered by ice formed from snowfall. Ice melting here contributes to rising sea levels.
This means the application of the satellite goes beyond assessing for ice loss at the Earth’s polar ice caps. The equipment contained within the satellite can also assist scientists with analyzing significant sea level rises in order to understand how these rising levels will affect future civilizations.
NASA has previously looked into the Earth’s ice loss between 2003 to 2009 via the original ICESat mission. The new satellite will provide greater insights because ICESat-2 offers some of the most advanced laser monitoring technology ever deployed, with the system said to be capable of recording measurements within a four-millimeter margin of error.
NASA will begin publishing results on the National Snow and Ice Data Center web page within a few months. Much of this information will also be made available the general public.