It is perhaps an unlikely combination an international team of scientists stationed in Svalbard, Norway and two polar explorers crossing the North Pole on foot. Both teams, however, are currently part of a common effort to collect vital data on the ground and from the air in support of ESA's ice mission CryoSat-2.
The CryoSat-2 mission, due for launch in 2009, will provide highly accurate information on changing marine and land ice thicknesses over the entire north and south polar regions, and in doing so will help address key questions regarding the impact of climate change on the polar environment. The mission is a technical tour-de-force if you take a step back and consider that the satellite will be travelling at over 23,000 kilometres per hour at 717 kilometres above the surface of the Earth and yet still measure changes in the ice thickness down to a few centimetres per year using its sophisticated radar altimeter SIRAL. Given these objectives and the importance of accurate measurements in assessing environmental change, it is not surprising that ESA goes to great lengths to ensure that the data from CryoSat-2 will be as accurate as possible.
Enter the Arctic Arc Expedition, part of the International Polar Year. The expeditions two Belgian explorers, Alain Hubert and Dixie Dansercoer, 'stepped' onto the sea ice off the coast of Siberia on the 1 March 2007 and have so far covered a staggering 2,500 km each pulling a 130-kg sledge holding supplies and equipment. Along the way these two intrepid explorers are contributing to the preparation of the CryoSat-2 mission by measuring snow depths at regular intervals. These data in turn will be used by scientists to assess how well snow conditions can be predicted using existing climate models as well as inputs to methods for improving the accuracy of CryoSat-2 maps of sea-ice thickness.
"We are making good progress," said Alain Hubert when contacted in his tent on the ice with his s
Contact: Mariangela D'Acunto
European Space Agency