Antarctica’s ice sheet is melting so rapidly that now over 200 billion tonnes of ice is pouring into the ocean annually, causing sea levels to increase by a half-millimetre every year.
Scientists and communities across the globe hold concerns for the future and are asking questions around how the ice shelves will evolve in our changing climate, i.e. “How much smaller will they get?” and “How fast will they shrink?”.
This uncertainty is mainly due to the limited understanding of the process that determines the instability of ice shelves. To reduce this uncertainty, the Ice Shelf Monitoring project by research consortium, HiRISE, has been focusing on ice shelves in Antarctica and mapping them out accurately using field measurements, satellite data and models.
The project is one of the recently announced Group on Earth Observations (GEO) - Google Earth Engine (GEE) Program winners that were granted funding to tackle environmental and social challenges using open Earth data.
We spoke with Project Supervisor, Stef Lhermitte, from the Delft University of Technology to learn about how HiRISE will be using Google Earth Engine (GEE) to investigate the role of ice shelf instability on sea level rise.
Stef, can you tell us about your project to monitor ice shelves in Antarctica?
With this project, we want to build a GEE platform to analyse and demonstrate the use of satellite data over Antarctic ice shelves. This will allow insight into the surface, subsurface and basal conditions of the ice shelves, which are major sources of uncertainty in determining future sea level projections.
We will focus on using GEE for processing the following satellite imagery sources:
The outcome of our project will be easily accessible satellite and model products on current Antarctic ice shelf status. These will be available for use by the broader community.
This developed GEE platform will complement the HiRISE consortium, which was recently funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and consists of TUDelft, IMAU, KNMI, NIOZ and ULB.
What is the challenge that you want to tackle?
The main challenge will be to translate our developed algorithms to Antarctic-wide scale using all the satellite data that is available to us.
Ice shelf stability is a crucial parameter for determining future sea level rise. In addition to the wider public interest in polar climate change, products monitoring the status over all Antarctic ice shelves are incredibly important for the broader cryosphere, ocean and sea level rise community.
How does Google Earth Engine help you achieve your project-related goals?
GEE enables us to scale up the methodologies used to access large scale satellite archives across Antarctica and provide a platform (app) to quickly browse and download insightful data sets.
Making these data available can help make more accurate estimations of how the stability of ice shelves is set to change in the coming centuries - and the possible impact this will have on communities and our environment.
How will the GEO-GEE funding help your project?
The support available within the GEO-GEE program will help us to improve the processing chain, data accessibility, visibility, and increase the available processing capability of our project.
What does success look like to you?
We hope this project will enable scientific breakthroughs by allowing insights on a larger scale (Antarctic-wide) and create societal impact by bringing polar satellite data closer to the scientific community and wider public.
EO Data Science’s role in the GEO - GEE Program
EO Data Science partnered with Google Earth Engine and the Group on Earth Observations to launch the GEO-GEE Program, which supports GEO member countries to operationalise their science as they strive to tackle the world’s biggest sustainable development challenges.
In July 2020, 32 projects across 22 countries were selected into the program which offers $3 million USD towards product licenses and $1 million USD in technical support from EO Data Science. This funding and support will help these projects tackle global challenges using open Earth data. Read the announcement and list of winners here.
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