NASA has launched a satellite equipped with the most advanced laser instrument of its kind in to space, to provide critical observations of how the Earth's ice sheets, glaciers and sea ice are changing.
The agency has sent the Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) into space today (UTC 12:46) atop a Delta 2 rocket from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
It will focus on measuring changes in ice thickness in places including Greenland and Antarctica, but it will also collect data on forest growth and cloud height.
ICESat-2 represents a major technological leap in the ability to measure changes in ice height – NASA said in a statement.
Its Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) measures height by timing how long it takes individual light photons to travel from the spacecraft to Earth and back.