A NASA satellite designed to accurately measure changes in the earth's ice sheets, glaciers, sea ice and vegetation has been launched into polar orbit from California.
A Delta 2 rocket carrying ICESat-2 took off from Vandenberg Air Base at 6.02 a.m. Saturday local time and headed over the Pacific Ocean.
The director of NASA's Earth Sciences division, Michael Freilich, says the mission will promote awareness of how the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica contribute to sea level rise.
The melting of these ice sheets alone has elevated the global sea level by more than 1 millimeter a year recently, according to NASA.
The mission is a successor to the original Ice, Cloud and Earth Elevation Satellite that ran from 2003 to 2009.
The measurements continued since then with airborne instruments.
ICESat-2 carries a single instrument, a laser altimeter that measures height by determining how long it takes for photons to travel from the spacecraft to Earth and vice versa.
According to NASA, it will collect more than 250 times more measurements than the first ICESat.
In addition to ice, other measurements of the satellite, such as treetops, snow and river heights, can help investigate the amount of carbon stored in forests and also flood and drought planning and the behavior of forest fires, among other uses.