Monthly Archives: November 2009

Gravity satellite sees East Antarctic ice loss

Data from NASA’s GRACE satellite (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) has been used to show that the East Antarctic ice sheet is losing mass.  GRACE has previously shown that the smaller West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are losing mass, but it was thought the East Antarctic was stable.


The data suggests there was no net loss between 2002 and 2006, but has been losing mass over the last three years. Whilst the loss is small compared to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, it is a surprising find. More reporting is available here or best read the paper published in Nature Geoscience (Accelerated Antarctic ice loss from satellite gravity measurements, Chen J.L. et al, Nature Geoscience, 2009).

Antarctic icebergs drift toward New Zealand

Neal Young at the Australian Antarctic Division has spotted a large number of icebergs drifting an unusually long way north towards New Zealand from the Antarctic. Several hundred icebergs have been identified in visible MODIS satellite imagery in the area around Macquarie Island. It is thought these bergs originated from a much larger iceberg which began its journey having calved from the Ross Ice Shelf.

Map of iceberg locations in Southern Ocean

The main press release and maps of their position can be found here where you can follow progress. No doubt New Zealand, who has already issued coastal navigation warnings for the area in the Southern Ocean, will be keeping a keen eye too.

Hopefully no sheep will be traumatised this time round (and that’s not a joke stereotyping NZ locals – see the last line of this report).

End of ICESat?

It looks as if ICESat has collected its last data. The following message was posted on the ICESat website recently.

As of October 11, 2009, Laser 2 of the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) onboard the ICESat satellite stopped emitting light pulses. Since this time, no new science data have been returned from the GLAS instrument.

Currently, a GLAS Anomaly Review Board has reviewed and assessed the situation and a series of attempts to restart Laser 2 has been initiated, to be followed by attempts on the other two lasers which stopped working earlier in the mission.

Please stay tuned for future ICESat Mission Updates.

In light of its problematic history, it has produced some incredible data. But lets be optimistic and wait and see. More info here or on twitter.

Alternatively wait for ICESat-II.

SMOS launched successfully

Good news from ESA. The latest Earth Explorer missions, the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission, was successfully launched early on Monday 2nd November. More information is available here and ESA’s twitter feed reports that the SMOS signal has now been received confirming separation from the launcher and injection into orbit. So far so good.


Also onboard was the latest technology demonstrator from ESA called Proba-2, which will test a minature star-tracker, digital sun sensor, miniaturised wide angle camera, fibre sensors, a high-precision magnetometer, a dual frequency GPS space receiver, a xenon-fed resistojet thruster, a cold gas generator and many more.

UPDATE 4.11.2009 : ESA have confirmed that the SMOS instrument’s three antenna arms have deployed as planned, and that the instrument is in good health.