09 April 2010

European satellite designed to measure how fast the Earth's ice are melting

Yesterday there was jubilation among the scientists of the European Space Agency (ESA) who tracked the launch from the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

CryoSat-2, which was designed and built in France and Germany but masterminded by British scientists, blasted off on a Russian launcher rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan shortly before 3pm yesterday afternoon. Some time later, a tracking station in Africa picked up the satellite's signal, confirming that it had gone into orbit.

CryoSat-2 is part of the ESA's Earth Explorers programme, involving seven spacecraft which will carry out innovative research about issues of pressing environmental concern. The melting ice of the poles and Greenland is considered one of the most pressing of all, with implications for ocean circulation patterns, the global climate and sea levels.

If the land-based Greenland ice sheet were to melt completely, it would mean a global sea-level rise of 21 feet, while if all of the Earth's polar ice and glaciers were to melt, sea levels could rise by more than 10 times that amount.

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