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NASA Ice Watching Satellite Will Measure Polar Ice With Pinpoint Accuracy Using Lasers

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NASA will be monitoring the changes on the ice sheets covering Greenland and Antartica with a cutting-edge laser in space.

This week, the space agency announced the Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite-2 or ICESat-2, a project that aims to measure the elevation increase/increase of ice, land topography, and vegetation cover on Earth as a response to the changing climate.

"The new observational technologies of ICESat-2 — a top recommendation of the scientific community in NASA's first Earth science decadal survey — will advance our knowledge of how the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica contribute to sea level rise," said the director of the Earth Science Division in NASA's Science Mission Directorate in a press release.

The laser instruments will be launched into space on Sept. 15 from the Vanderberg Air Force Base in California.

Most Advanced Laser Instrument

The ICESat-2 is equipped with the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System or ATLAS, which is said to be the best of its kind. The laser instrument works by firing back 10,000 pulses per second to the Earth in order to measure elevation based on how long individual photos make a round trip from the spacecraft, to the ground, and back to the instrument.

ICESat-2 will be able to send hundreds of trillions of photons back to Earth to be able to get the most accurate measurement of elevation. The new satellite can provide can provide better results than its predecessor, the ICESat launched in 2003 and was retired in 2010.

The cutting-edge laser will be orbiting the Earth from pole to pole and will be able to track changes within ice elevation four times a year or every season.

Predicting The Future Based On Melting Ice

Monitoring the level of which the ice in both north and south poles are melting due to the increasingly heating planet can help scientists forecast the rise of sea level. The hundreds of billions of tons of land ice melting into the oceans annually is still a major contributor to the rising sea level that threatens to submerge major cities around the world underwater.

Scientists believe that the ocean rose 7 centimeters within 25 years. As the planet continues to heat up, the sea level is expected to rise at a more rapid rate.

"Because ICESat-2 will provide measurements of unprecedented precision with global coverage, it will yield not only new insight into the polar regions but also unanticipated findings across the globe," added Thorsten Markus, the ICESat-2 project scientist.

The ICESat-2 can also monitor forests around the world. The same laser can be used to measure tops of trees and the ground below.

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