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Watching Antartica from Space

“Has it all melted yet?”

People often ask that when I tell them I’m a polar scientist, using satellites to study the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets from space.

Luckily, the ice sheets are over 3km thick so there is still quite a bit of ice left. It’s amazing to use satellites to watch how quickly things are changing at the poles.

Lots of other questions crop up when I’m talking to colleagues, students, friends and family, so I’ve tried to answer the most popular ones here, and also said a little about some really exciting work I’ve been involved in recently.

What is an ice sheet, and why are they so important?

Ice sheets are a large, thick area of ice covering the land or bedrock beneath it. There are two ice sheets on the planet at the moment – Antarctica is in the south with the penguins, and Greenland is to the north with the polar bears in the Arctic. Together, they hold more than 99% of the world’s freshwater – if the whole Antarctic ice sheet melted, sea levels would rise by about 58m! Although that will not happen in our lifetime – sea levels are currently rising at a rate of 3.4mm per year – we’re definitely seeing changes occurring faster than ever before which is why we need to monitor these important regions.

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Dr Anna Hogg
Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM) at the University of Leeds

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