Satellites have been used to map the impact of global warming on glaciers.

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Glaciers are difficult to measure mass loss over time with any sort of satellite. Image source: F.PAUL/NASA/USGS

The most recent satellite analysis by Europe’s Cryosat satellite offers the most precise image yet of the condition of the glaciers throughout the planet.

According to the study, global warming has caused the 200,000 glaciers on Earth to lose 2,720 billion tonnes of ice in the last ten years, or 2% of their mass.

Because so many people depend on glaciers for water and farming, it is imperative to keep an eye on how quickly they are vanishing.

The bulk of glaciers can only be seen from space, despite the fact that a small number are consistently assessed on the ground.

Not only in the poles, but also at all other latitudes throughout the earth, are glaciers found.

In addition to the polar areas, glaciers can be found all across the world at different latitudes.

The bulk of glaciers can only be seen by satellite imagery; therefore, it is critical to track their response to climate change.

Only a small number of glaciers are frequently measured on the ground.

Like the bigger ice sheets, their white surfaces reflect sunlight and aid in cooling the earth.

In many areas, glaciers also act as essential water reserves, supplying about 20% of the world’s population’s needs for drinking water, agriculture, and hydropower from summer meltwater.

Therefore, keeping an eye on these glaciers is crucial to comprehending how climate change affects the planet’s cooling and water supply.

The radar altimeter instrument on the seasoned Earth observation Cryosat from the European Space Agency monitors changes in height on the planet’s surface using microwave pulses.

Its main emphasis is on how the height of ice fields changes.

Although this equipment is quite good at tracking the slow undulations in the core of Antarctica and Greenland, it has trouble measuring ice that travels through rough terrain, like valleys with steep sides.

Scientists have increased Cryosat’s capacity to detect changes in even the most difficult conditions thanks to developments in data processing.

Cryosat is now able to adequately monitor developments in these obscured areas.

This method was used by researchers to analyze the whole data archive from the spacecraft to produce a thorough assessment of glaciers all around the world in a study that was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters on Wednesday.

Scientists have been able to improve Cryosat’s vision thanks to recent improvements in data processing, boosting its robustness and resolution to monitor developments even in difficult terrain.

This method was used in a recent study that was released on Wednesday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. It produced an extensive examination of glaciers all around the world.


Even during droughts, glacier melt waters ensure that South Asia has a continuous supply of water. Image source: SHYLENDRAHOODE

According to Cryosat’s findings, melting brought on by a steadily warming environment was responsible for 89% of the ice loss observed between 2010 and 2020.

Only 11% of the ice loss, in contrast, was brought on by glaciers melting or flowing more quickly as a result of their fronts ending in warmer lake or ocean waters.

With an annual loss of about 80 billion tonnes, or around 5% of the region’s total ice volume over the ten-year study period, Alaska’s glaciers have experienced the greatest losses. The main cause of these losses is the increase in air temperature.

In regions where their fronts end in warmer waters, such as the Russian sectors of the Barents and Kara seas and the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard, glaciers are disintegrating and moving more quickly.

Increased ice flow into the ocean is to blame for more than 50% of mass loss in these places.

Surface waters in the Arctic Ocean are frequently chilly and fresh, and this phenomenon is referred to as the “Atlantification” of the Arctic.

Nevertheless, surface waters in some areas are getting warmer and saltier due to currents rising from the Atlantic.

According to Noel Gourmelen from Edinburgh University in the UK, as a result, glaciers in these regions are discharging more ice into the ocean.

Naturally, this will accelerate the sea level rise, which already poses a threat to low-lying areas.

The European Union intends to monitor global glacier status on a regular basis in the future. Image source: AIRBUS

The Cryosat is an old spacecraft that has outlived its design life. Although they expect it to continue working for a few more years, scientists admit that it could stop working at any time.

The European Union is creating a new satellite series called Cristal in light of Cryosat’s successes.

As Livia Jakob, an Edinburgh colleague, put it, “This long-term project aims to build on the progress achieved by Cryosat.”

At one of the most prestigious conferences for Earth scientists in the world, the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna, Austria, Ms. Jakob, who led the study at her remote sensing business Earthwave, presented its consequences.

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