NASA Launches Satellite To Help Understand Global Ice Loss


With the melting of global ice causing tremendous worldwide fear, NASA has stepped up their technological and scientific skill to help understand Earth’s ever-changing climate. On September 15, NASA launched the ICESAT-2 satellite to observe Earth’s ice sheets and their contribution to sea levels. The Delta II rocket carrying the ICESAT-2 ascended from California’s Vandenberg Air Force base at 6:02 AM local time on September 15. The U.S. invested one billion dollars, which will allow NASA to collect data regarding the impact of climate change globally for a period of three years. The satellite will measure changes in glaciers, Earth’s ice sheets, sea ice, and vegetation. Further, if there is need for the mission to be extended, the ICESAT-2 has fuel reserves to last it ten years of observation.

According to NASA, ICESAT-2 will measure the height of a changing Earth with laser pulses using a laser altimeter, which measures 10,000 laser pulses per second. NASA explained that the laser altimeter can detect individual photons, which allows scientists to calculate the elevation of ice sheets, sea ice, and forests. This is significant because Earth’s cryosphere is changing, and it is important for scientists to measure these changes for global safety. This is a matter that needs addressing, particularly because the number of climate refugees have risen, and extreme weather is generating concerns for human safety and global peace. NASA has stated that this project is so sophisticated that “the mission will gather enough data to estimate the annual height change of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to within 4 millimetres – the width of a no. 2 pencil.”

This advancement by NASA shows the impressive development of scientific research and instrumentation. NASA explained that the ICESAT-2 will carry the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS), which is a single laser that’s split into six beams. This is arranged into three pairs to intricately determine the slope of Earth’s surface. With the complexity of the satellite, this provides Earth a much better chance of understanding the nature of climate change. This will also allow governments who work alongside scientists to educate the public. By enabling individuals to do their part in mitigating the disastrous effects of climate change, Earth would therefore be in a much better position. Not only will this create a safer planet, but it will also help to create a stable landscape for international and environmental security.

NASA’s project is expanding upon the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESAT) mission which ran between 2003-2009. This project gave insight into the thinning of sea ice and the disappearing of ice cover from Antarctica and Greenland. Since then, NASA has continued to keep track of climate change through Operation Ice Bridge, which involved airborne instrumentation. However, this new development will create an advancement in NASA’s climate observation of the cryosphere.

With the fear of climate changing at the forefront of governments worldwide, the work that NASA is doing is unprecedented. As climate change becomes better understood, governments and the public can work to save the environment. Therefore, any investment into science and climate change is significant, especially by major global powers like the U.S., who have the money to support their missions. The work that NASA and their affiliated institutions are making is paving the way for spreading knowledge and increasing awareness about climate change, and creating a positive global impact on the acknowledgement of the issue.

Aisha Parker