Ice Sheets and Glaciers

The effects of past and present climate changes on ice sheets are manifest in their current state of mass balance. Assessing that balance has been and continues to be a research priority. Scientists have a long history of studying global ice sheet, glacier, and ice shelf dynamics, Antarctic and Greenland ice sheet evolution and mass balance and the resultant impact on global sea level. These studies are based in part on extensive use of radar altimeter data, imagery, laser altimetry data, and field expeditions onto the polar ice sheets to collect in-situ observations of ice characteristics and dynamics. This research is based on observational capabilities with airborne and satellite altimetry of ice sheets and is further leveraged on earlier ocean altimetry research.

ICESat produced stunning results that extended well beyond the planned polar ice sheet program goals to include sea ice measurements, applications to Earth topology, land water run-off, and forest-height measurements. The NASA Cryospheric Science Laboratory continues research in these areas using data from Operation IceBridge and ICESat-2.

An artistic rendering of ICESat-2 in orbit over the high-Arctic


Photo of Bruckner and Heim glaciers in eastern Greenland, Operation IceBridge, Sept 2016