A team of European scientists are finally ready to launch Cryosat-2, a satellite that once in orbit will measure the extent and thickness of the ice at the Earth’s poles in unprecedented detail. The satellite’s older sibling was launched in 2005 and crashed before making it into orbit. The team — part of the European Space Agency — has high hopes for round two. If successful the data returned could be essential in measuring the effect of climate change on our ice caps.

The satellite was engineered mostly by a team of scientists from the UK and built mostly by France and Germany. It will launch with the help of a ballistic missile from Kazakhstan. Once in the air it will begin measuring the ice on the Earth’s poles with its high intensity radar. Unlike previous satellites Cryosat-2 is outfitted with two radar antennas — older satellites only have one — that are set one meter apart. The two antennas will allow scientists to take more accurate measurements of ice thickness.

Previously scientists have been able to correctly measure the extent of the ice at the poles and the amount of land it covers. However, measuring the thickness of the ice is a different issue. Not knowing the thickness of ice sheets can lead to huge understatements — or overstatements — of how much ice really exists. As we all know, a lot of glaciers are located under water. The accurate measurements that Cryosat-2 will return to the ESA will be used to predict how quickly the ice is melting and what possible currents and rising waters can be expected as a result.

Via The BBC