ICESat-2

The Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 will measure the height of Earth from space, creating a record of the planet’s elevation in unprecedented detail and precision. With high-resolution data from ICESat-2’s laser altimeter, scientists will track changes to Earth’s polar ice caps – regions that are a harbinger of warming temperatures worldwide. The mission will also take stock of forests, map ocean surfaces, track the rise of cities and measure everything in between. ICESat-2 continues key elevation observations begun by ICESat-1 (2003 to 2009) and Operation IceBridge (2009 through present), to provide a portrait of change in the beginning of the 21st century.

For more information, please visit the ICESat-2 website.

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Animations

  • ICESat-2 Measures Slope
    2015.11.04
    Animation with info key.
  • ICESat-2 Beam Pairs
    2016.02.03
    The ATLAS lidar on ICESat-2 uses 6 laser beams to measure the earth’s elevation and elevation change. By arranging the beams in three pairs of two, scientists can also determine the slope between the two beams, a key component of determining elevation change along the Reference Ground Track. Each time ATLAS collects data along a particular track, onboard software aims the laser beams so that the Reference Ground Track is always between the two beams, as shown in the animation. This allows scientists to combine the elevation and slope information from two different passes to determine elevation change along the Reference Ground Track.
  • Deploy and Beauty Pass
    2014.10.15
    The Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, is a laser altimeter that will measure the heights of Earth’s surfaces. With ICESat-2’s high-resolution data, scientists will track changes to Earth’s ice-covered poles, which is witnessing dramatic temperature increases. The mission will also take stock of forests, map ocean surfaces, characterize clouds and more.

    ICESat-2 carries a single instrument called the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS), equipped with a multiple-beam laser, which sends 10,000 pulses of light to the ground each second. A small fraction of the light photons bounce off Earth’s surface and return to the instrument, where a photon-counting detector times their flight. Knowing this time, and the satellite’s position and orientation in space, scientists can calculate Earth’s elevation below.

    ICESat-2 continues key elevation observations begun by the original ICESat satellite (2003 to 2009) and Operation IceBridge (2009 through present), to provide a portrait of change in the beginning of the 21st century. ICESat-2 is slated for launch on a Delta-II rocket in 2017.

  • Global Ice Albedo
    2003.12.12
    This is a conceptual animation showing how polar ice reflects light from the sun. As this ice begins to melt, less sunlight gets reflected into space. It is instead absorbed into the oceans and land, raising the overall temperature, and fueling further melting.
  • Bright White Reflects Light
    2004.02.05
    This animation provides a close perspective of the relationship between ice and solar reflectivity. As glaciers, the polar caps, and icebergs (shown here) melt, less sunlight gets reflected into space. Instead, the oceans and land absorb the light, thus raising the overall temperature and adding energy to a vicious circle.
  • Scan Pattern
    2014.02.07
    A four-shot beauty pass of IceSat on orbit

Data Visualizations

  • ICESat-2 Orbit
    2017.11.03
    ICESat-2 is a spacecraft designed to accurately measure land and ice elevations on Earth. By comparing observations from different times, scientists will be able to study changes in elevations. ICESat-2 will be in a polar orbit which will provide high coverage near the poles where ice elevations are changing relatively quickly. This visualization shows ICESat-2's polar orbit from afar, then closer up. As we get close to the satellite, the 3 pairs of ICESat-2's ATLAS lidar laser beams begin to resolve. A ground track shows ICESat-2's global coverage which repeats about once every 90 days. The ATLAS lidar on ICESat-2 uses 3 pairs of laser beams to measure the earth’s elevation and elevation change. As a global mission, ICESat-2 will collect data over the entire globe, however the ATLAS instrument is optimized to measure land ice and sea ice elevation in the polar regions. For more information on ICESat-2 click here.
  • Icesat-2 Measurements Over Antarctica (prelaunch)
    2016.11.09
    The ATLAS lidar on ICESat-2 uses 6 laser beams to measure the earth’s elevation and elevation change. As a global mission, ICESat-2 will collect data over the entire globe, however the ATLAS instrument is optimized to measure land ice and sea ice elevation in the polar regions. ICESat-2 reports elevations with respect to a reference surface, called an ellipsoid. In this measurement system, shared by GPS devices, an elevation of zero meters indicates the notional sea level, although tides, wind, and waves can make the actual sea level either greater than or less than zero. The Antarctic ice sheet, shown here, ranges up to 4000m above sea level. Over the course of 91 days, ATLAS will generate 1387 ground tracks across Antarctica for each of it’s 6 beams.
  • The Thermohaline Circulation - The Great Ocean Conveyor Belt
    2009.10.08
    The oceans are mostly composed of warm salty water near the surface over cold, less salty water in the ocean depths. These two regions don't mix except in certain special areas. The ocean currents, the movement of the ocean in the surface layer, are driven mostly by the wind. In certain areas near the polar oceans, the colder surface water also gets saltier due to evaporation or sea ice formation. In these regions, the surface water becomes dense enough to sink to the ocean depths. This pumping of surface water into the deep ocean forces the deep water to move horizontally until it can find an area on the world where it can rise back to the surface and close the current loop. This usually occurs in the equatorial ocean, mostly in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. This very large, slow current is called the thermohaline circulation because it is caused by temperature and salinity (haline) variations.

    This animation shows one of the major regions where this pumping occurs, the North Atlantic Ocean around Greenland, Iceland, and the North Sea. The surface ocean current brings new water to this region from the South Atlantic via the Gulf Stream and the water returns to the South Atlantic via the North Atlantic Deep Water current. The continual influx of warm water into the North Atlantic polar ocean keeps the regions around Iceland and southern Greenland mostly free of sea ice year round.

    The animation also shows another feature of the global ocean circulation: the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. The region around latitude 60 south is the the only part of the Earth where the ocean can flow all the way around the world with no land in the way. As a result, both the surface and deep waters flow from west to east around Antarctica. This circumpolar motion links the world's oceans and allows the deep water circulation from the Atlantic to rise in the Indian and Pacific Oceans and the surface circulation to close with the northward flow in the Atlantic.

    The color on the world's ocean's at the beginning of this animation represents surface water density, with dark regions being most dense and light regions being least dense (see the animation Sea Surface Temperature, Salinity and Density). The depths of the oceans are highly exaggerated to better illustrate the differences between the surface flows and deep water flows. The actual flows in this model are based on current theories of the thermohaline circulation rather than actual data. The thermohaline circulation is a very slow moving current that can be difficult to distinguish from general ocean circulation. Therefore, it is difficult to measure or simulate.

Ice Data Visualizations

  • Arctic Sea Ice from March to September 2017
    2017.09.19
    Arctic sea ice appears to have reached its yearly summertime minimum extent for 2017, according to scientists at the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colo. Observations indicate that on September 13th, ice extent shrunk to the eighth lowest minimum extent in the satellite record, at 4.64 million sq km, or 1.79 million sq mi.

  • Minimum Antarctic Sea Ice 2017
    2017.03.22
    This year’s record low annual sea ice minimum of 2.11 million square kilometers was below the previous lowest minimum extent in the satellite record, which occurred in 1997. Antarctic sea ice saw an early maximum extent in 2016, followed by a very rapid loss of ice starting in early September. Since November, daily Antarctic sea ice extent has continuously been at its lowest levels in the satellite record. The ice loss slowed down in February. “There’s a lot of year-to-year variability in both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice, but overall, until last year, the trends in the Antarctic for every single month were toward more sea ice,” said Claire Parkinson, a senior sea ice researcher at Goddard. “Last year was stunningly different, with prominent sea ice decreases in the Antarctic. To think that now the Antarctic sea ice extent is actually reaching a record minimum, that’s definitely of interest.” The images shown here portray the sea ice as it was observed by the AMSR2 instrument onboard the Japanese Shizuku satellite. The opacity of the sea ice is derived from the AMSR2 sea ice concentration. The blueish white color of the sea ice is derived from the AMSR2 89 GHz brightness temperature. In some of the images. The Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica is shown over the continent.
  • Operation Icebridge Studies Changes in Greenland's Helheim Glacier
    2017.07.28
    These visualizations show data from the Helheim Glacier in Greenland collected by Pre-Icebridge in 1998 and Operation Icebridge in 2013. Data from both the Airborne Topographic Mapper (ATM) and the Digital Mapping System (DMS) are included. The first visualization shows how the scanner on the aircraft acquired the data, building up a representation of the 3d laser scanned points as we go. Once the calving front from 1998 is revealed, the 2013 data is faded in showing the differences between the years. The dots are colored initially by absolute height with reds higher and blues lower; after the 2013 data is added, the dot colors change to a localized scheme with reds higher than nearby points and blues lower than nearby points. ATM data is added at the end for some context. The second visualization shows the DMS data with ATM data at the 2013 calving front. The DMS data is overlayed onto photogrametrically determined altitudes which don't precisely correspond to the ATM data. The heights of the ATM data are the 'true' heights.
  • Arctic Daily Sea Ice Concentration from Arctic Minimum 2016 to Arctic Maximum 2017
    2017.03.22
    This animation shows the seasonal change in the extent of the Arctic sea ice between the Arctic minimum, September 10, 2016, and Arctic maximum on March 7, 2017. Arctic sea ice appears to have reached a record low wintertime maximum extent, according to scientists at NASA and the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colo. This winter, a combination of warmer-than-average temperatures, winds unfavorable to ice expansion, and a series of storms halted sea ice growth in the Arctic. This year’s maximum extent, reached on March 7 at 5.57 million square miles (14.42 million square kilometers), is only about 40,000 square miles below the previous record low, which occurred in 2016, The images shown here portray the sea ice as it was observed by the AMSR2 instrument onboard the Japanese Shizuku satellite. The opacity of the sea ice is derived from the AMSR2 sea ice concentration. The blueish white color of the sea ice is derived from the AMSR2 89 GHz brightness temperature. The annual cycle starts with the minimum extent reached on August 31, 2016 and runs through the daily sea ice concentration until the maximum occurs on March 3, 2017. The Arctic’s sea ice maximum extent has dropped by an average of 2.8 percent per decade since 1979, the year satellites started measuring sea ice. The summertime minimum extent losses are nearly five times larger: 13.5 percent per decade. Besides shrinking in extent, the sea ice cap is also thinning and becoming more vulnerable to the action of ocean waters, winds and warmer temperatures.
  • Arctic Sea Ice Minimum Image: September 10, 2016
    2017.07.08
    This image shows the Arctic sea ice on September 10, 2016 when the ice reached its minimum extent. The opacity of the sea ice is derived from the sea ice concentration where it is greater than 15%. The blueish white color of the sea ice is derived the AMSR2 89 GHz brightness temperature.

    The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) provides many water-related products derived from data acquired by the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) instrument aboard the Global Change Observation Mission 1st-Water "SHIZUKU" (GCOM-W1) satellite. Two JAXA datasets used in this animation are the 10-km daily sea ice concentration and the 10 km daily 89 GHz Brightness Temperature.

  • Antarctic Sea Ice on August 28, 2016
    2017.07.08
    This is an image of the Antarctic sea ice on August 28, 2016, the date on which the sea ice reached its maximum annual extent. The opacity of the sea ice is determined by the AMSR2 sea ice concentration. The blueish white color of the sea ice is a false color derived from the AMSR2 89 GHz brightness temperature. Over the Antarctic continent, the Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica data shown here has a resolution of 240 meters per pixel.

Edited Features

  • NASA Scientists Trek the South Pole
    2017.12.14
    With extreme cold-weather gear, scientific instruments, and two tank-like snow machines called PistenBullys, they begin a traverse on Dec. 21 along section of the 88-degree south latitude line in an arc around the South Pole, documenting a new route across the Antarctic ice. The 470-mile expedition in one of the most barren landscapes on Earth will ultimately provide the best assessment of the accuracy of data collected from space by the Ice Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2), set to launch in 2018. With a fast-firing laser instrument, ICESat-2 will measure the elevation of ice sheets and track how much they change over time. Even small amounts of melt across areas as vast as Greenland or Antarctica can result in large amounts of meltwater contributing to sea level rise. To help document this, ICESat-2's height change measurements will have a precision of less than an inch – ground-truthed, in part, with efforts like this Antarctic campaign. The team will collect precise GPS data of the elevation at 88 degrees south, where ICESat-2’s orbits converge, providing thousands of points where the survey measurements can be compared to satellite data.
  • ICESat-2 By the Numbers: 300 Trillion
    2017.11.03
    ICESat-2 is an incredibly precise space laser that features the latest in NASA technology To measure ice heights, engineers have to take ICESat-2’s instrument ATLAS to the extreme – sometimes going big, sometimes going small, but always keeping it precise.
  • ICESat-2 By the Numbers: 532
    2017.11.03
    ICESat-2 is an incredibly precise space laser that features the latest in NASA technology To measure ice heights, engineers have to take ICESat-2’s instrument ATLAS to the extreme – sometimes going big, sometimes going small, but always keeping it precise.
  • ICESat-2 By the Numbers: 90
    2017.11.03
    ICESat-2 is an incredibly precise space laser that features the latest in NASA technology To measure ice heights, engineers have to take ICESat-2’s instrument ATLAS to the extreme – sometimes going big, sometimes going small, but always keeping it precise.
  • ICESat-2 By the Numbers: 0.2
    2017.11.03
    ICESat-2 is an incredibly precise space laser that features the latest in NASA technology To measure ice heights, engineers have to take ICESat-2’s instrument ATLAS to the extreme – sometimes going big, sometimes going small, but always keeping it precise.
  • ICESat-2 By the Numbers: 1,387
    2017.11.03
    ICESat-2 is an incredibly precise space laser that features the latest in NASA technology To measure ice heights, engineers have to take ICESat-2’s instrument ATLAS to the extreme – sometimes going big, sometimes going small, but always keeping it precise.
  • ICESat-2 Elevates Our View of Earth
    2017.08.16
    ICESat-2 will provide scientists with height measurements that create a global portrait of Earth’s third dimension, gathering data that can precisely track changes of terrain including glaciers, sea ice, forests and more. The single instrument on ICESat-2 is ATLAS, the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System, will measure melting ice sheets and investigate how this effects sea level rise, investigate changes in the mass of ice sheets and glaciers, estimate and study sea ice thickness, and measure the height of vegetation in forests and other ecosystems worldwide.
  • ATLAS: Laser Focus
    2015.01.07
    Deputy Systems Engineer Phil Luers explains how the ATLAS transmitter and receiver subsystems come together to calculate the timing of photons, which, in turn, measure the elevation of ice.

    Complete transcript available.

    Music: "Electric Works" by Philippe Lhommet, Koka Media; "From Source to Sea" by Christophe Lebled, Pierre Jacquot, Koka Media.

  • Photon Jump
    2017.03.03
    Pho, a plucky bright green photon of light, must travel from a NASA spacecraft down to Earth and back again to help complete a crucial science mission in this educational short film. The animation was created and produced by media art students from the Savannah College of Art in Design (SCAD) in Georgia, in collaboration with NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) mission. Their goal was to communicate the science and engineering of the mission, slated for launch in 2018. ICESat-2, managed by NASA Goddard in Greenbelt, Maryland, will measure the height of a changing Earth, one laser pulse at a time, 10,000 laser pulses a second. ICESat-2 will carry a photon-counting laser altimeter that will allow scientists to measure the elevation of ice sheets, glaciers, sea ice and more - all in unprecedented detail. The workings of this laser helped inspire students to create the character of Pho and plot his adventure. Our planet's frozen and icy areas, called the cryosphere, are a key focus of NASA's Earth science research. ICESat-2 will help scientists investigate why, and how much, our cryosphere is changing in a warming climate. The satellite will also measure heights across Earth's temperate and tropical regions, and take stock of the vegetation in forests worldwide. For more about the mission, visit http://icesat-2.gsfc.nasa.gov.
  • Pho Movie Trailer
    2016.11.21
    The ICESat-2 satellite, which is currently being built and tested at NASA Goddard in Greenbelt, will study Earth in a unique way -- and we have developed a unique education and outreach tool. In Photon Jump, a 3-minute short animation, a brave photon of light named Pho must travel from a NASA spacecraft down to Earth and back again to help complete a crucial science mission. The animation is a partnership between NASA’s ICESat-2 mission and students from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Developed by students and faculty with direct supervision from ICESat’s scientists and engineers, the goal was to create an entertaining and educational short film for a variety of audiences..
  • Laser Focus: The Receiver
    2015.01.07
    Laser Focus: The Receiver

    For complete transcript, click here.

  • ICESat-2 Overview
    2015.07.02
    Animated informational slides designed to introduce the viewer to the ICESat-2 mission and ATLAS instrument.
  • Laser Focus: The Transmitter
    2015.01.07
    ICESat-2's instrument, ATLAS, is designed to measure heights on Earth. ATLAS has three main tasks: transmitting a pattern of six laser beams, collecting the laser photons that return to the satellite after reflecting off Earth, and recording the travel time of those photons. First up – transmitting the laser. In this video, optical engineer Tyler Evans illustrates how the laser is transmitted from the ATLAS instrument to the ground.
  • Intro to LiDAR
    2011.04.14
    Want to know the 3D shape of terrain on another planet? Want to study the height and density of Earth's forests? An amazing tool called LIDAR can help. Learn more in this video!

    This video is presented in stereoscopic 3D for those who can view it. We've included left and right eye clips, a side-by-side version, and an anaglyph (red/blue) version. Download any of them below!

Facebook Live Broadcasts

  • Inside the ATLAS Cleanroom
    External Resource
    Time to suit up! We’re taking you into a clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center where the ICESat-2 satellite is currently being monitored. Here engineers and technicians take special precautions to make sure the instrument’s lasers, mirrors, and other components stay perfectly clean. ICESat-2’s sole instrument, called the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS), is being put to the test in this clean room and in a nearby thermal vacuum chamber, before engineers attach it to the rest of the ICESat-2 spacecraft.

High Resolution Still Graphics

  • ICESat-2 Print Material
    2016.04.13
    These illustrations are an outcome of the ICESat-2/SCAD Collaborative Student Project.
  • Spacecraft Poster Still
    2014.10.15
    The Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, is a laser altimeter that will measure the heights of Earth’s surfaces. With ICESat-2’s high-resolution data, scientists will track changes to Earth’s ice-covered poles, which is witnessing dramatic temperature increases. The mission will also take stock of forests, map ocean surfaces, characterize clouds and more.

    ICESat-2 carries a single instrument called the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS), equipped with a multiple-beam laser, which sends 10,000 pulses of light to the ground each second. A small fraction of the light photons bounce off Earth’s surface and return to the instrument, where a photon-counting detector times their flight. Knowing this time, and the satellite’s position and orientation in space, scientists can calculate Earth’s elevation below.

    ICESat-2 continues key elevation observations begun by the original ICESat satellite (2003 to 2009) and Operation IceBridge (2009 through present), to provide a portrait of change in the beginning of the 21st century. ICESat-2 is slated for launch on a Delta-II rocket in 2017.

Raw Media for Broadcast

HD broadcast-quality footage of the ICESat-2 spacecraft and ATLAS instrument.