Amidst heated debates on a climate phenomenon that the Trump administration reduces to a mere conspiracy, NASA has taken a massive technological leap that is aimed at unraveling proofs of what environmentalists have been warning the world about: the reality of global warming and its devastating effects on the surface of the Earth.
Mark your calendars. On September 15, NASA will be launching its Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) 310 miles above the Earth to survey the elevation of ice sheets on the planet’s surface and track the rate by which they are reduced.
By capturing 60,000 measurements per second, the ICESat-2 is expected to gather substantial information to accurately assess elevation changes in icy surfaces across Greenland and Antarctica.
To do that, a state-of-the-art laser technology aboard the ICESat-2 will be spraying the Earth’s ground with 300 trillion subatomic particles called photons per laser pulse. The survey will circle both poles of the Earth for approximately 91 days.
ICESat-2: Integrated ATLAS Technology
As its name suggests, the ICESat-2 succeeds a similar mission that NASA conducted from 2003 to 2009. As a follow-on project, the ICESat-2 was supposed to be launched in 2016 as originally scheduled, if not for technical setbacks.
A superior upgrade from its predecessor, the ICESat-2 integrates the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) that fires photons at a faster rate and with increased resolution.
Compared to the ICESat, NASA’s newest satellite instrument to be launched this month collects not only accurate data but also 250 more height measurements. And unlike the original ICESat mission that only operated two months in a year, ICESat-2 will be measuring icy surface elevations for the full 12-month period.
Here’s What to Expect from the ICESat-2 Ice-Monitoring Mission
The original ICESat mission led to the discovery of 100 subglacial lakes formed beneath massive ice sheets. NASA expects the follow-on ICESat-2 mission to record “incredibly precise data” that will help achieve these objectives:
- Provide clearer estimates of the thinning of ice shelves in East and West Antarctica that could impact sea levels
- Discover more subglacial lakes
- Offer insight into the planet’s high-latitude forests to help evaluate their condition
- Give information for land estimates to create global forest carbon maps for climate change models
Ultimately, researchers and scientists expect the ICESat-2 mission to reveal the impact of rising global temperatures as evidenced by ice reduction, rising water levels, and altered topography.