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NASA Monitors 'Normal' Levels of Ice in Arctic Ocean

Aug 22, 2016 06:39 AM EDT

The ice levels in the Arctic Ocean continue to melt at an alarming rate. Yet, little to nothing has been done. In fact, even NASA is accepting the "normal" levels of ice in the Arctic despite the obvious effects of climate change.

"A decade ago, this year's sea ice extent would have set a new record low and by a fair amount. Even when it's likely that we won't have a record low, the sea ice is not showing any kind of recovery. It's still in a continued decline over the long term. It's just not going to be as extreme as other years because the weather conditions in the Arctic were not as extreme as in other years," explained Walt Meier, sea ice scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "Now, we're kind of used to these low levels of sea ice - it's the new normal."

While scientists have yet to discover a way to prevent the ice from melting further, observing the ice caps are the next best step. Scientists are figuring out a way how to measure the levels of ice from orbit. Though satellites can measure anything on Earth, the presence of salt in the ocean water is apparently interfering with the satellite radar.

Yet a satellite slated for launch in 2018 could change all that. The satellite called Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) will be using lasers and a "precise detection instrument." This will try to get even more complete answers about sea ice thickness. Using the laser altimeter, it would measure the heights of the Earth's surface.

Of course, scientists still need to go beyond the above-water height measurements, as well as perform calculations to account for a few factors. These factors include densities of frozen layers or the snow on top of the ice. For now, scientists are eager to see measurements turned into data involving sea ice thickness.

"If we want to estimate mass changes of sea ice, or increased melting, we need the sea ice thickness," said Thorsten Markus, cryosphere lab chief at Goddard, adding, "It's critically important to understanding the changes in the Arctic."

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