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Arctic

Satellite monitoring of Arctic sea ice provides key indicators to assess the extent of climate change and give us a true picture of our planet.

Altimetry satellites are tracking variations in Arctic sea ice throughout the year and over longer periods. In the last 20 years, the extent of sea ice has decreased significantly as a result of climate change. This decline has accelerated since 2006 and by September 2012 sea ice coverage was at the lowest level ever seen, dropping below 4 million square kilometres—just half what it was in the 1970s. 

Since 2013, the French-Indian SARAL satellite has taken over Envisat’s role, monitoring Arctic ice from the same polar orbit. In 2014, ice extent recovered slightly from the catastrophic decline observed in 2012, but at 5 million square kilometres it is still below the average of the last 30 years.

The combined use of Ka-band observations from SARAL and Ku-band observations from Europe’s Cryosat satellite are today giving scientists new tools for analysis. First, they are being used to map fracturing of ice to gauge sea ice status and tell us more about how it is evolving over time. Fractured ice usually melts faster than an unbroken surface.

Second, they will ultimately allow us to measure ice thickness more precisely.

Satellite monitoring of Arctic sea ice provides key indicators to assess the extent of climate change and give us a true picture of our planet.

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