Ice Sheets and Glaciers

A view of Antarctica showing ice sheet elevation and cloud data from ICESat.The effects of past and present climate changes on ice sheets are manifest in their current state of mass balance. Assessing that balance has been and continues to be a research priority. Scientists have a long history of studying global ice sheet, glacier, and ice shelf dynamics, Antarctic and Greenland ice sheet evolution and mass balance and the resultant impact on global sea level. These studies are based on extensive use of radar altimeter data, visible/radar imagery and, most recently, ICESat laser altimetry data, as well as field expeditions onto the polar ice sheets to collect in-situ observations of ice characteristics and dynamics. This research is based heavily on historical and observational capabilities with airborne and satellite altimetry of ice sheets, and is further leveraged on the earlier ocean altimetry research. Processing of polar-ice satellite radar altimetry is expanding with the new responsibility to process data from GLAS and manage its host satellite ICESat, the first polar ice research satellite mission, and the first Earth Science research satellite laser mission. ICESat has produced stunning results that extend well beyond the planned polar ice sheet program goals to include sea ice measurements and new applications to Earth topology and even land water run-off and forest height measurements. This is an on-going development of highest priority with broad, across-the-board application for Earth science needs and we expect  staff to assist with a long-lifetime, advanced-laser ICESat follow-on mission proposal.