Saturday, March 14, 2009

European polar satellite still in planning stage

IPS, via Julio Godoy in Tierramérica: When the European Space Agency (ESA) designed the original CryoSat ice-monitoring satellite, not all scientists accepted global warming as an urgent threat. Today, 10 years later, few deny the existence of climate change, its human causes, and the consequences for life on the planet. But CryoSat-2 is still just a project, held up by the red tape and technical shortcomings that are typical in this kind of mission.

The objective of the satellite is to obtain precise measurements of the changes in polar ice masses, with the aim of determining the effects of global warming on the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Initially scheduled to be launched into orbit in October 2005, over the following three and a half years it was to gather data that would serve as scientific grounds for debates on how to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But the first CryoSat crashed due to technical problems in the rocket launcher, and the ESA will only be ready to try a new launch in November of this year. In the more than three years that have gone by since the first attempt, considerable knowledge has been obtained on the melting of the earth’s ice cover.

The most comprehensive study conducted to date on North Pole life - presented in February by the organisation Arctic Ocean Diversity - found that a rising number of warm-water crustaceans have extended their range towards the poles, inhabiting previously cold waters, like those surrounding the Norwegian Svalbard Islands, which have become warmer and more hospitable as a result of climate change.

Despite all the new findings, the ESA believes that CryoSat’s mission will still prove useful. "Our understanding of global warming and ice mass melting has obviously grown. But the technology used by the CryoSat will allow us to obtain the most accurate measurements ever on glacier volume changes in both poles," Daniel Steinhage, glaciologist with the German Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research and scientific advisor to the CryoSat mission, told Tierramérica….

Artists's rendering of Cryo-Sat 2 from the European Space Agency

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