ESA CryoSat Offers Glimpse Of Glacial Recession In Patagonian Ice Fields

Outside of the Antarctic region, the Northern and Southern Patagonian Ice Fields are the most substantial bodies of polar ice found in the Southern hemisphere. As a result of their large size, these Ice Fields, referred to as NPI and SPI, contribute heavily to global sea level rise (SLR).

All over the world, glaciers are receding in size. Some of these glaciers are receding rapidly, changing both the sea level and the shape of various shorelines. The change in weather patterns plays a huge role in the melting of ice as it breaks off of these glaciers as icebergs. As a result of melting glacial ice over the last 15 years, sea level has risen at a greater rate than in the past. Overall, between 2011 and 2017, the Patagonian Ice Fields have lost mass at more than 20 Gt a year.

CryoSat is a program developed by the ESA to monitor changes in the depth of polar ice. This is accomplished with a low orbiting satellite, which provides a better image than we have been able to get in an earlier period. New statistics from the CryoStat offers a clear view of the glacial recession in both Northern and Southern Patagonian Ice Fields.

The ESA reported that, although the CryoSat continues to supply the data it was intended to measure, the CryoSat mission has once again outdone itself by showing “how much sea ice is being lost and how the Antarctic and Greenlandic ice sheets are changing.” It has revealed “exactly how much mountain glaciers are also succumbing to change.”

The ESA has designed a new way to process the data gathered by the CryoSat, making it possible to map the Northern and Southern Patagonian Ice Fields and the glaciers in great detail. A scientific research paper, published in Remote Sensing of Environment, was recently published outlining the CryoSat mapping process as well as ESA’s findings in regards to the glacial recession in the Patagonian Ice Fields.

The CryoSat captures elevation change and patterns over the multifaceted landscape. It has recently been found that ice dynamics plays a key role in “driving strong mass losses on the ice fields.” In contrast to the massive loss of ice throughout the terrain, Pio XI is the only glacier that has gained mass. The CryoSat data has shown that “Pio XI, the largest glacier in South America, advanced and gained mass at a rate of about 0.67 Gt a year.”

As with any scientific mapping or experiment, the method of CryoSat mapping does have a margin of error.

“The volume change uncertainty is only related to that area of the ice cap where there are valid rates of surface elevation change, but does not account for incomplete data coverage.”

The volume change uncertainty is subsequently rescaled in accordance with the coverage of data, thereby offering a smaller rate of error.

According to the ESA, the aforementioned paper corresponds with a CryoSat dataset taken over Greenland. Researchers are using the dataset over Greenland to digitally create an elevation model of the thinning rates of the Greenland ice sheet. This model could potentially provide the researchers with a better understanding of Greenland’s ice loss.