Caitlin Dempsey


CryoSat-2 is the satellite launched by the European Space Agency on April 8, 2010 to collect data in order to understand the relationship between the world’s ice layers and climate change.  The satellite collects data about ice thickness over both land and water to analyze the changes in polar ice coverage.  The three year mission of CryoSat-2 which carries an interferometric radar range-finder (SIRAL-2 – the SAR/Interferometric Radar Altimeters) will result in the monitoring of changes in marine ice free floating in the polar oceans and in the ice sheets that cover Greenland and Antarctica.  CryoSat-2 also carries a Doppler Orbit and Radio Positioning Integration by Satellite, or DORIS which is used to calculate the satellite’s orbit.

The satellite’s orbit is Low-Earth, non-Sun-synchronous at an altitude of 717 km and reaches latitudes of 88°.  The total mission length is three years.

The first CrySat (launched on October 8, 2005) lost control minutes after launch before the ESOC Mission Control Team was able to acquire the satellite.  The decision to rebuild the satellite was made in February of 2006.  CryoSat-2 was launched Dnepr rocket provided by the International Space Company Kosmotras from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

CryoSat-2. Credits: ESA – P. Carril
CryoSat-2. Credits: ESA – P. Carril

CryoSat-2 is capable of detecting changes in ice thickness as little as 1cm.  The satellite is able to measure the freeboard, the height of free floating sea ice that protrudes above the water which allows for ice thickness to be measured.

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During the Paris Air and Space Show held in June of 2011, the ESA made public its first sea-ice thickness map based on data measurements from CryoSat-2.  The data was collected during January and February of 2011 and was the first time polar ice thickness could be observed.

Arctice Sea Ice Thickness Map

The image below demonstrates the closeness to the South Pole that CryoSat-2 is able to produce ice thickness measurements for.  Previous earth observation satellites have only been able to measure up to the white circle.  CryoSat-2 is able to measure up to latitudes of 88° represented by the inner circle.

Credits: CPOM/UCL/ESA/Planetary Visions
Credits: CPOM/UCL/ESA/Planetary Visions
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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.