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The Ice Flows, the Ice Goes

Whether you believe global climate change is anthropocentric or not, climate change is indeed occurring. We have seen a 40% decline in sea ice thickness since 1979. The minimum recorded was not so long ago back in 2012. What are the ultimate consequences of this going to be, and how will it influence the biome as a whole? What can be done, if anything can or should be done, about it? Perhaps those questions are more difficult to answer. But, how are we keeping track of what’s going on in the polar regions of our planet? Are we at least monitoring the situation?


Interestingly, technology exists to monitor said sea ice from space. The European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite has been in development since the 1990s and was launched in 2010. This satellite carries a first of its kind radar altimeter payload which can provide surveillance of the Arctic Ocean ice cap at latitudes up to 88 degrees North.

More recently, for the first time, CryoSat-2 has been able to monitor sea ice levels in lakes located in the northern territories of Canada. Arctic lakes such as this make up to 40% of the landscape. Monitoring these lakes, such as Great Slave Lake pictured below, can assist in providing an overall safety assessment to those in the area as well as assessing changes that may affect local water supplies. How safe is it to drive or walk over an area might well depend on how thick the ice is, for example.


How is the raw data viewed by researchers collecting this data? Take a look at the image below. This represents a radargram of the sea ice data that is sent back to earth after an overpass of an area subject to study. 


The polar regions of our planet affects freshwater systems, sea levels, surface heat and the overall climate of the Earth. Increasing our knowledge set of what is happening to these regions will help us understand future thermocline patterns, generalized weather patterns and certain atmospheric conditions. For those who are interested in reading more about CryoSat-2 and wish to look more at sea ice measurements for yourselves, visit:


ESA. (n.d.). CryoSat. Retrieved from

ESA. (n.d.). CryoSat conquers ice on Arctic lakes. Retrieved from

Tilling, R. L., Ridout, A., & Shepherd, A. (2018). Estimating Arctic sea ice thickness and volume using CryoSat-2 radar altimeter data. Advances in Space Research, 62(6), 1203–1225. doi: 10.1016/j.asr.2017.10.051



Nicholas Chudolij is graduate student within American Public University's Space Studies faculty, Astronomy track. Nicholas loves traveling, fishing, competitive marksmanship and playing the flute.


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