Minimize Snow and Ice Overview

A tenth of Earth’s land surface is permanently occupied by ice sheets or glaciers, but the domain of the cryosphere – that part of the world where snow and ice can form – extends three times further still.

The cryosphere is an important regulator of global climate, its bright albedo reflecting sunlight back to space and its presence influencing regional weather and global ocean currents. Some 77% of the globes freshwater are bound up within the ice – but the cryosphere appears disproportionately sensitive to the effects of global warming.

Imaging radar systems like those of ERS and Envisat pierce through clouds or seasonal darkness to chart ice extent, possessing sensitivity to different ice types – from kilometers - thick ice sheets to new-born floating ‘pancake’ ice – supplemented by optical observations.

Radar altimeters gather data on changing ice height and mass: in 2009 ESA launched CryoSat-2 as the first altimetry mission specifically designed to accurately measure the thickness of sea ice and land ice margins.

Minimize Snow and Ice News
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Pine Island retreat on the radar

27 March 2014

Twenty years of radar coverage from ESA satellites have been used to measure the rapid thinning of Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier - and it's losing more ice than previously thought.

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Balancing the sea-level budget

26 March 2014

Water from melting glaciers and ice sheets, along with thermal expansion of ocean water due to rising temperatures, are causing global sea-level rise. Scientists are exploiting satellite data to understand better just how much each component contributes to this devastating consequence of climate change.

Minimize Specific Topics on Snow and Ice
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Frozen Ground

The enormous permafrost areas of the world show seasonal change which has impact on not only vegetation and hydrological cycles, but also on the planning and safety of huge gas and oil pipelines which traverse these areas.

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Sea Ice

Sea ice is formed from ocean water that freezes, whether along coasts or to the sea floor (fast ice) or floating on the surface (drift ice) or packed together (pack ice). The most important areas of pack ice are the polar ice packs. Because of vast amounts of water added to or removed from the oceans and atmosphere, the behavior of polar ice packs have a significant impact of the global changes in climate.

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Snow & Ice

The study of snow and ice is aimed at monitoring the environmental conditions of some of the most inaccessible parts of the world. This includes the study of animal migration, ice mass balance, snowpack conditions, and monitoring of iceberg movement for ship routing.

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