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David Steitz/Elvia Thompson
Headquarters, Washington
(Phone: 202/358-1730/1696)

Cynthia M. O'Carroll
Goddard Space Flight Center,
Greenbelt, Md.
(Phone: 301/614-5563)

ICESat home page

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EOS Project Science Office

 

Viewable Images

Caption for Item 1: Sky Image at Bonneville As part of the calibration of ICESat, scientists and engineers from the Center for Space Research at the University of Texas at Austin photographed ICESat laser pulses in the sky and on the ground at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah on Tuesday September 30, 2003. The series of near-circular green spots in the sky picture are caused by the green-laser pulses from GLAS illuminating thin clouds or aerosols in the atmosphere. The spots, captured in an 8-second camera exposure, are separated by about 170 meters and by less than 3 hundredths of a second. In a clear sky, the laser light from the satellite would appear as a bright green star. The white streak parallel to the green spots is from lights on an aircraft used to photograph both the infrared and green laser spots on the ground. The small white spots are stars. Credit: NASA/University of Texas

Caption for Item 2:Byrd Glacier

Byrd Glacier, shown in a radar image from RADARSAT -1 (top), is the largest outlet glacier draining ice from the East Antarctic Ice Sheet through the Trans-Antarctic Mountains into the Ross Ice Shelf. The ice sheet is grounded on bedrock and the ice shelf is floating on the ocean. Two ICESat profiles across the glacier show details of the troughs formed on the sides of the glacier as it plows into the ice shelf. The differences between the elevations and widths of the glacier at the inner (red) profile and the outer (black) profile show how the glacier thins and spreads as it merges with the ice shelf. With time, ICESat's measurements of small changes in the elevations of the ice sheets, outlet glaciers, and ice shelves will provide information on whether the rate of ice discharge into the ocean is increasing or decreasing and thus influencing sea level. Credit: NASA

Caption for Item 3: Atmosphere

ICESat is the first polar-orbiting satellite to directly measure the heights of clouds and aerosols. The top graphic shows the vertical distribution of the laser light reflected from clouds and aerosols along a track over the Atlantic Ocean near the coast of Africa. The lower graphic shows a conventional two-dimensional satellite image taken at almost the same time. The unique information on the heights and density of clouds and aerosols derived from the laser measurements enables scientists to calculate where radiation from the sun and heat from the Earth's surface is absorbed or reflected in the atmosphere. These new observations allow scientists to better understand the heating and cooling of the Earth's atmosphere and its relationship to climate change. It also provides information on how dust, pollutants, and moisture are transported around the world. Credit: NASA

Caption for Item 4:Forest

As laser pulses from ICESat approach the ground, some of the light is reflected back to the satellite from trees and other vegetation before it reaches the ground. For three laser pulses, the red areas represent the amount of reflected light measured by ICESat from the different heights in trees and from the ground in a Boreal Forest. The shape and strength of the red areas provide information on the height and density of the forest canopy, enabling estimation of the amount of biomass and its variation over the Earth. Credit: NASA

Caption for Item 5: Polar Ice Sheets

While most small glaciers around the world have been shrinking rapidly and contributing to sea level rise in recent decades, we do not know whether the polar ice sheets are growing or shrinking. Each year about 8 mm (0.3 inches) of water from the entire surface of the oceans goes into the Antarctica and Greenland ice sheets as snowfall. If no ice returned to the oceans, sea level would drop 8 cm (3 inches) every 10 years. Although approximately the same amount of water returns to the ocean in icebergs and from ice melting at the edges, scientists do not know which is greater --- the ice going in or the ice coming out. The difference between the ice input and output is called the mass balance and is important because it causes changes in global sea level. ICESat will help determine how much the ice sheets may be contributing to the present rate of sea level rise of 2 cm (0.8 inches) every 10 years. Credit: NASA

Caption for Item 6:

For the future, if climate continues to warm, the polar ice sheets are expected to melt more at the edges due to warmer summer temperatures and grow more in the centers due to increased snowfall. The United Nations Panel on Climate Change has estimated that sea level will rise about 18 inches plus or minus 15 inches over the next century. If the ice sheets melt more than expected, the sea-level rise could therefore be greater. If the ice sheets grow more than expected, future sea level rise could be smaller. By monitoring changes in the melt and growth rates as climate changes in the world's polar regions, ICESat will help reduce uncertainty in these predictions. Credit: NASA

Caption for Item 7: Artist's rendition of ICESat

Credit: NASA

Caption for Item 8: ICESat Animation with audio

Credit: NASA

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October 06, 2003 - (date of web publication)

ICESAT'S LASERS MEASURE ICE, CLOUDS AND LAND ELEVATIONS

NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) has resumed measurements of the Earth's polar ice sheets, clouds, mountains and forests with the second of its three lasers. Crisscrossing the globe at nearly 17,000 miles per hour, this new space mission is providing data with unprecedented accuracy on the critical third dimension of the Earth, its vertical characteristics.

"The first set of laser measurements is revealing features of the polar ice sheets with details never seen before, and is detecting dust storms, cloud heights, tree heights and smoke from forest fires in new and exciting ways," said Jay Zwally, ICESat Project Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Sky Image at Bonneville

Item 1

Hi res image

The principal mission of ICESat is to measure the surface elevation of the large ice sheets covering Antarctica and Greenland. Measurements of elevation-change over time will show whether the ice sheets are melting or growing as the Earth's climate undergoes natural and human-induced changes.

The Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) instrument on ICESat sends short pulses of green and infrared light though the sky 40 times a second, all over the globe, and collects the reflected laser light in a one-meter telescope. The elevation of the Earth's surface and the heights of clouds and aerosols in the atmosphere are calculated from both precise measurements of the travel time of the laser pulses, and ancillary measurements of the satellite's orbit and instrument orientation. This marks the first time any satellite has made vertical measurements of the Earth through the use of an onboard light source.

Operating in a near-polar orbit, ICESat is adding to our understanding of the mass-balance of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. ICESat's first topographic profiles across Antarctica revealed details of features such as the ice streams of the Siple Coast and the Amery Ice Shelf, as well as the atmospheric phenomena above them.

 

Byrd Glacier

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ICESat is also making unique measurements of cloud heights and global distribution. ICESat detects distributions of aerosols from sources such as dust storms and forest fires. And because its laser pulses continuously, ICESat also measures the Earth's topography with high accuracy.

"ICESat has already demonstrated the unique capability of lasers to make a variety of Earth Science measurements. When the calibration experiments are completed, we believe the accuracy and sensitivity will exceed previous capabilities by nearly an order of magnitude," stated Bob Schutz, GLAS Science Team Leader, of the University of Texas at Austin.

ICESat was launched January 12, 2003, on a Boeing Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. On March 29, ICESat's Laser 1 unexpectedly stopped working after providing 36 days of data. NASA will issue a report shortly on the reason for the anomaly.

 

The top graphic shows the vertical distribution of the laser light reflected from clouds and aerosols along a track over the Atlantic Ocean near the coast of Africa. The lower graphic shows a conventional two-dimensional satellite image taken at almost the same time.

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"Despite the problem with the first laser, ICESat is providing a new perspective on elements within the Earth System with amazing accuracy. We are especially looking forward to the information this capability will provide on how the polar ice sheets are changing," said Waleed Abdalati, ICESat Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters, Washington.

The ICESat scientists will convene a special session to present the latest results from ICESat at the 2003 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

ICESat is the latest in a series of NASA's Earth observation spacecraft designed to study the environment of our home planet and how it may be changing. NASA's Earth Science Enterprise is dedicated to understanding the Earth as an integrated system and applying Earth System Science to improve prediction of climate, weather and natural hazards using the unique vantage point of space.

 

 

For three laser pulses, the red areas represent the amount of reflected light measured by ICESat from the different heights in trees and from the ground in a Boreal Forest.

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Polar Ice Sheets

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The United Nations Panel on Climate Change has estimated that sea level will rise about 18 inches plus or minus 15 inches over the next century.

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Poster Image of ICESat

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Reporter package animation with audio

Item 8

Click on image above for animation with audio
(12.2 MB)

 

 

 

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