Blog
Apr 02

Climate change: Satellite fix safeguards Antarctic data

Europe’s quarter-century-long satellite data record of ice sheet changes in the Antarctic is secure into the future.
It’s possible because a new spacecraft tasked with observing what’s going on in the polar south is finally producing very serviceable data.
When the EU’s Sentinel-3 mission was first launched in 2016, it struggled even to sense the continent’s edge.
That problem’s been fixed and its observations of the ice have now been shown to be consistent and accurate.

Why is this important?

It comes down to how we know the Antarctic is melting.

Europe has flown an unbroken sequence of radar altimeters over the White Continent since 1991.

It is the data from these instruments, more than any other information source, that has established the melting trend in Antarctica.

Mission after mission has detected a thinning of the ice sheet, in particular in its western sectors, with the loss of mass (some 200 billion tonnes per year) adding to global sea-level rise.

Currently, the primary altimeter is on a spacecraft called Cryosat, but this equipment is well past its design life and could fail at any time.

That’s put pressure on scientists to prepare Europe’s new Sentinel-3 platform, a workhorse satellite whose many roles includes measuring ice surfaces.

“For climate records you want to have these long-term, continuous time-series, and so we’re very keen to be in the situation where, if Cryosat were to die, we could slot in Sentinel-3 and carry on,” explained Dr Malcolm McMillan from Lancaster University’s Centre for Environmental Data Science and the NERC Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM).

Read the full story at BBC News