The Frozen Frontier: Monitoring the Greenland Ice Sheet from Space

A MOOC on the role of Earth Observation to monitor the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Made up of layers of compressed snow from over the last 100,000 years, the vast Greenland ice sheet acts as both a valuable record of our past climate and a bellwether for future climate change.

The vast ice sheets that overlie Greenland and Antarctica hold over 99% of all the surface freshwater on Earth. If this ice were to melt, it has the potential to contribute greatly to global sea level rise. In order to fully understand how climate change is affecting these remote but sensitive regions, we need to determine how the thickness of the ice is changing.

This online course highlights how the Greenland ice sheet is monitored from space and the ground. You’ll look at the measurements made possible by Earth Observation (EO) satellites like Cryosat, the technologies and techniques involved, the data generated, and its uses and challenges.

You’ll also explore the role of ice in the climate system, and the impact of climate change on the Greenland ice sheet.

This course focuses principally on Earth observation from space and therefore relates mainly to satellite remote sensing. However, it will also look at some similar forms of remote sensing often conducted from aircraft or ground based sensors. Throughout the course, the terms ‘Earth observation’ and ‘remote sensing’ are often used interchangeably. Also, don’t forget that the word ‘data’ in the context of satellite EO can refer to optical imagery and photography, as well as to so-called ‘geospatial’ and numerical data derived from other forms of sensors.

Essentially, ‘geospatial data’ refers to the information extracted or inferred from measurements at a specific geographical location.

This course is dedicated to the memory of Professor Konrad Steffen who sadly died in an incident on the Greenland ice sheet in 2020. His life and work as a scientist/educator and passionate science communicator have left a powerful legacy to which we are all indebted.

What you will learn

  • Explore how we observe and measure ice sheets in situ and from satellites
  • Explore the operational elements of satellite missions like Cryosat, which monitor the Greenland ice sheet
  • Understand the complexity of the dynamics involved in melting ice sheet systems
  • Data processing methods from Cryosat and other satellite missions

Visit the FAQ page to learn more about how to get the most out of the course material.

This course has been produced for ESA by Imperative Space, a multi-faceted education and media company which has produced a range of online courses and training materials for clients in several global sectors, including space, environment, science, technology, NGOs and government.

Other MOOCs on Earth observation data produced by Imperative Space have included courses focusing on EO applications in climate and Optical EO focusing on ocean monitoring, land cover, and humanitarian response.