The European Space Agency has launched a sophisticated satellite that scientists hope will help them pin down the effects of global warming on the Earth's ice packs more precisely by accurately measuring the thickness of ice.
The CryoSat 2 mission, which started Thursday after years of delays, will be able to pinpoint details of changes in polar ice so scientists can better understand the alarming picture of the world's retreating ice caps.
Although most scientists agree that global warming is significantly affecting the Earth's ice sheets, many also say too little is known with certainty, and that is where the CryoSat 2 mission aims to help.
"We hope to find out more about the role the sea ice plays for the climate system and more about the height of the land ice," said Heinrich Miller, one of the two CryoSat project directors.
"We know that it is dwindling but we don't know exactly what mechanisms are at work," the glacial scientist said.
Earlier satellites helped lay the groundwork for decades worth of research on the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, but those have gone out of operation without being replaced in time, Miller said.