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On the Radar Screen: The GeoSAR Blog

Monitoring the Loss of Arctic Sea Ice


There’s a real-life drama playing out in the Arctic again this summer, and no, we aren’t talking about Deadliest Catch reruns on the Discovery Channel. Rather, we are referring to the drastic loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. Recent findings from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center show this year’s melting to be on par with the record setting levels of 2007. And while the full impact of these events is not yet known, the report further justifies the Arctic’s reputation as “ground zero” for climate change.

As users and providers of geospatial data, it will come as no surprise to you that remote sensing is playing a key role in these Arctic ice observations. Radar sensors are particularly well suited for such studies given the region’s temporal lack of daylight and persistent cloud cover. Acquiring data 24 hours a day and in a variety of weather conditions, radar-based imagery reveals roughness patterns in the ice that allows analysts to gauge both thickness and age.

The use of radar data for this purpose dates as far back as 1978 when NASA used its SEASAT system to monitor polar sea ice conditions. Fast forward three decades, and NASA’s innovation continues with an airborne mission this spring over Iceland and Greenland. This latest effort combined two radar bands in hopes of accurately measuring the speed, direction, and topographic height of ice caps whose sub-glacial topography has already been mapped. If successful, these data will provide researchers with better data from which to model glacial mechanics.

Fugro EarthData is also actively engaged in ice mapping research. With a science-based project scheduled for completion later this year, we aim to provide a sound basis for the use of the GeoSAR dual-band radar mapping for ice studies. If you know of other radar-based ice studies, let’s talk about them here…send us your thoughts and experiences.

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6 Responses to “Monitoring the Loss of Arctic Sea Ice”

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