NASA will launch into space a laser instrument to measure the changes in the heights of earth’s polar ice. NASA’s Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite-2 or ICESat-2 will measure the average annual elevation change of land ice covering Greenland and Antarctica to within the width of a pencil, capturing 60,000 measurements every second. The mission began back in 2003 and continued in 2009 with NASA’s Operation IceBridge. The NASA advanced laser instrument will reportedly improve upon it.

Michael Freilich, the director of the Earth Science Division in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate said, “The new observational technologies of ICESat-2 – a top recommendation of the scientific community in NASA’s first Earth science decadal survey – will advance our knowledge of how the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica contribute to sea level rise.” Its Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) measures height.

ATLAS required us to develop new technologies to get the measurements needed by scientists to advance the research. That meant we had to engineer a satellite instrument that not only will collect incredibly precise data, but also will collect more than 250 times as many height measurements as its predecessor. – Doug McLennan, ICESat-2 project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

ATLAS will fire hundreds of trillions of photons to the ground in six beams of green light and ATLAS is expected to measure the elevation with minute precision. With the help of ATLAS, ICESat-2 will get a much more detailed view of the ice surface than ICESat.

NASA ice, cloud, and land elevation satellite-2 will measure the ice heights four times a year and will provide a seasonal and annual monitoring of ice elevation changes. The data retrieved from the inspection will help researchers narrow the range of uncertainty in forecasts of the future sea level rise and connect those changes to climate drivers. ICESat-2 will also measure the height of sea above the adjacent sea surface and the height of the ocean and land surfaces including forests.

NASA ATLAS will measure both the tops of trees and ground below to help scientists estimate the amount of carbon stored in the world’s forests. The data will obviously help fulfill the societal needs such as it may help local governments plan for floods and droughts, it could improve computer models that firefighters use to forecast wildfire behavior. ICESat-2 is scheduled to launch Sept. 15 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.