The ICESat-2 Laser Altimetry Mission

Abdalati, W, Zwally HJ, Bindschadler R, Csatho B, Farrell SL, Fricker HA, Harding D, Kwok R, Lefsky M, Markus T, Marshak A, Neumann T, Palm S, Schutz B, Smith B, Spinhirne J, Webb C.  2010.  The ICESat-2 Laser Altimetry Mission. Proceedings of the IEEE . 98:735-751.

Date Published:



dynamics, elevation changes, fluctuations, glas altimetry, greenland ice-sheet, Ice sheets, ICESat-2, jakobshavn isbrae, laser altimetry, mass-balance, NASA, outlet glacier, satellite, sea ice, variability, vegetation, West Antarctica


Satellite and aircraft observations have revealed that remarkable changes in the Earth's polar ice cover have occurred in the last decade. The impacts of these changes, which include dramatic ice loss from ice sheets and rapid declines in Arctic sea ice, could be quite large in terms of sea level rise and global climate. NASA's Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2), currently planned for launch in 2015, is specifically intended to quantify the amount of change in ice sheets and sea ice and provide key insights into their behavior. It will achieve these objectives through the use of precise laser measurements of surface elevation, building on the groundbreaking capabilities of its predecessor, the Ice Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat). In particular, ICESat-2 will measure the temporal and spatial character of ice sheet elevation change to enable assessment of ice sheet mass balance and examination of the underlying mechanisms that control it. The precision of ICESat-2's elevation measurement will also allow for accurate measurements of sea ice freeboard height, from which sea ice thickness and its temporal changes can be estimated. ICESat-2 will provide important information on other components of the Earth System as well, most notably large-scale vegetation biomass estimates through the measurement of vegetation canopy height. When combined with the original ICESat observations, ICESat-2 will provide ice change measurements across more than a 15-year time span. Its significantly improved laser system will also provide observations with much greater spatial resolution, temporal resolution, and accuracy than has ever been possible before.