NASA’s ICESat-2 Reveals Arctic Sea Ice Has Thinned by as Much as 20%

Most studies have found that sea ice thickness has remained constant in the last 10 years.
Loukia Papadopoulos

If global warming has got you worried then it might be best you not read this article. NASA has revealed some new data, and it's troublesome.

NASA’s new Ice Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) has found that Arctic sea ice has thinned by as much as 20% since the end of the first ICESat mission in 2003 to 2009. This goes against most existing studies that find sea ice thickness has remained relatively stable in the last 10 years.


In case you didn't know sea ice is crucial to the balance of our planet, it helps keep Earth cool by reflecting the Sun's energy back into space.

“The Arctic sea ice pack has changed dramatically since monitoring from satellites began more than four decades ago,” said Nathan Kurtz, ICESat-2 deputy project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“The extraordinary accuracy and year-round measurement capability of ICESat-2 provides an exciting new tool to allow us to better understand the mechanisms leading to these changes, and what this means for the future.”

ICESat-2 consists of a laser altimeter. The satellite uses pulses of light to get precise measurements of height down to about an inch.

The researchers compared ICESat-2 's findings to those from CryoSat-2. These two instruments offer very different methods of measuring ice thickness.

CryoSat-2 carries a radar to measure height and its results could be thrown off by seawater flooding the ice. However, ICESat-2 also has its limitations. As a young mission, its computer algorithms are still being refined which could change the results. 

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"With ICESat-2 and CryoSat-2 using two different methods to measure ice thickness – one measuring the top of the snow, the other the boundary between the bottom of the snow layer and the top of the ice layer – but researchers realized they could combine the two to calculate the snow depth," said NASA in their statement.

The end result is more precise measurements that paint a worrisome picture of our Arctic sea ice's future. The study is published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans.

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