NASA’s Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) spacecraft at the Astrotech Space Operations facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The satellite will launch next month. Picture: Vanessa Valentine / U.S. Air Force

Durban - THE US-based National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has launched the most advanced laser in the world to track, in great detail, what is happening to the world’s polar ice.

This is to help understand the impact of melting ice on sea level rise, and the data will help government authorities plan for possible natural disasters such as floods.

The Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) will be launched next month, said NASA.

“It will advance our knowledge of how the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica contribute to sea level rise,” said Michael Freilich, director of the Earth Science Division in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

Experts at the aeronautics and aerospace research institute will measure the average annual elevation change of land ice to within the width of a pencil, capturing 60,000 measurements every second.

Monitoring of the ice sheet began in 2003, but with the advanced laser, the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) measures height of the ice sheet by timing how long it takes individual light photons to travel from the spacecraft to Earth and back.

According to NASA, ice from the sheets from Greenland and Antarctica have contributed to more than a millimeter increase in sea level in one year.

ICESat-2 will also measure the height of ocean and land surfaces and forests.

The Independent on Saturday