NASA to launch new laser to track Earth’s polar ice loss

The new technology will measure the height change of ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica ‘to within the width of a pencil’

By Priyanka Shrestha

NASA is to launch a laser instrument into space to measure changes in the heights of Earth’s polar ice “in unprecedented detail”.

The Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2), said to be the most advanced technology of its kind, will measure the average annual elevation change of land ice covering Greenland and Antarctica “to within the width of a pencil”, capturing 60,000 measurements every second.

Hundreds of billions of tons of land ice melt or flow into the oceans every year, contributing to sea level rise worldwide.

ICESat-2 data documenting the ongoing height change of ice sheets, glaciers and sea ice will help researchers narrow the range of uncertainty in forecasts of future sea level rise and connect those changes to climate drivers.

Thorsten Markus, an ICESat-2 Project Scientist at Goddard Space Flight Centre said: “Because ICESat-2 will provide measurements of unprecedented precision with global coverage, it will yield not only new insight into the polar regions but also unanticipated findings across the globe. The capacity and opportunity for true exploration is immense.”