Some Interesting Results from Cryosat

The European Cryosat mission has been focussing on analysing the sea-ice cover in the Artic recently. New data has been produced from the spacecraft which uses it’s radar to estimate the thickness of the ices has noticed some alarming results. The data points at a very substantial reduction in the volume of the ice particularly during the months of Autumn.

In fact the amount has fallen nearly a third compared with the last known data on this, which was produced covering 2003-2008. The fall in levels for the winter months is not quite as dramatic however. Much of the loss seems to have occured in specific regions though, mainly on the Canada Archipelago and also some areas to the North of Greenland. We obviously have much more data about these levels since we had the technology of satellites to measure them, But the Cryosat report has only covered the last two years. At the moment it would be difficult to tell if these fluctuations are significant until there is enough data to look at the long term trends.

Cryosat was established by the European Space Agency in 2010. The satellite sends down a radar pulse towards the ice floes and then measure the results with a built in altimeter. If you are interested in seeing a paper discussing the findings in depth you can find them on this site – http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/grl.50193/abstract, the report was compiled by Professor Lazon who unfortunately died in an accident at the beginning of the year.
The polar scientist is a big loss to the Cryosat mission as he has developed a lot of techniques to help the project work effectively. We still don’t know exactly how the change in the ice cover might have an effect on the atmosphere and the Artic ocean, but the Cryosat data will definitely play an important role in understanding this.

If you want to read more and keep up to date with this research there are lots of resources on the BBC website in the environmental section. Also many of the documentaries and reports are viewable on the BBC Iplayer application. Unfortunately you won’t be able to access these if you’re based outside the UK, although I found this useful method to allow me to watch Iplayer on my IPad. It uses a VPN server to hide your IP address so even when I’m based in the US, it looks like my IP address is originating from the UK.

China Launches New Satellite

China has launched an exciting development in the field of weather prediction – the Gaofen 1 satellite.  The satellite is classed as an Earth Observation device and has been launched by SASTIND – China’s State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence.  It is the very first satellite capable of broadcast high resolution pictures back to earth,

The device was actually developed by the Chinese Academy of Space Technology and the launch took place last Friday from the province of Gansu in  the North of the country. It was carried into orbit by a Long March rocket and there are great hopes for the satellite. It is hoped that it will provide numerous services for agriculture, disaster prevention and provide general environmental services to the scientific community. Particularly apt after the recent inclusion of China in the last Earth Hour.

China has suffered from many natural disasters in the last few years and it is hoped that Gaofen 1 will play an important role in initially predicting these events and also in monitoring events in progress. Many natural disaster cover huge areas especially things like floods and snowstorms, the satellite should be able to predict the extent of some of these events.

The Gaofen 1 can move very fast aswell so can be repositioned to cover different areas when needed.  Gaofen 1 is expected to be only the first in a series of these high resolution satellites that are launched.  In fact SASTIND are expected to launch about 5 more in the next three years or so.  These wll create a spation coverage and observation system across the country.

It is hoped that these satellites are only used for scientific and weather prediction purposes, although there is obviously a worry that their use is extended given the reputation for the regimes monitoring and controling it’s population.  Ironically many of the films of the launch were not accessible last week in China – with viewers receiving the message – that this youtube video not available in your country !  Fortunately most Chinese internet users are well used to this sort of filtering and  they are usually skilled in using security tools like proxies and VPNs to neatly sidestep these restrictions.