The European CryoSat spacecraft is used by the Center for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM) to monitor the thickness of floes in the arctic sea.
The satellite does not complete a full sweep of the entire Arctic. Rather, it is a series of samplings across the region that should give anyone working in the far north a clearer idea of the conditions they are likely to encounter.
Accurately measuring the polar sea ice thickness is an essential part in understanding, monitoring and predicting climate change. Year to year the numbers will jump around a little but the overall trends do show that the overall volume of arctic sea ice is decreasing.
This CPOM website allows us to view Arctic Sea Ice Thickness Maps hat are no more than two days old – meaning that data is available in near real time.
Graphic via the BBC
CryoSat uses a synthetic aperture radar over areas of sea ice to measure a much smaller footprint than previous satellites. This provides the resolution to identify sea ice floe regions, and open ocean lead regions between floes, and to measure their surface elevations. Over sea ice, CryoSat echoes are assumed to scatter from the interface between the ice surface and the layer of overlying snow [Beaven et al., 1995; Laxon et al., 2013], and we can therefore measure the sea ice freeboard (the height of sea ice above water).