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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 on the global changes in climate.

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Satellite cousins have ice covered

16 December 2016

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Although not designed to deliver information on ice, ESA's Earth Explorer SMOS satellite can detect thin sea-ice. Since its cousin CryoSat is better at measuring thicker ice, scientists have found a way of using these missions together to yield an even clearer picture of the changing Arctic.

Carrying a radiometer, SMOS was designed to capture images of brightness temperature. While these images can be turned into information on soil moisture and ocean salinity to improve our understanding of the water cycle, it turns out this data can also be used to measure sea ice.

In contrast, CryoSat carries a radar altimeter that measures freeboard of sea ice, which is the distance between the waterline and the top of the ice.

This is being used to work out how the thickness of sea ice is changing and, in addition, how the volume of Earth's ice is being affected by the climate.

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