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- ESA highlights Polar View's
key role in Arctic Monitoring
The continued importance and on-going relevance of Polar View's services is noted in an article posted on the News section of the ESA website. With the European Union recently adopting a policy called 'The European Union and the Arctic Region'; effective monitoring and observation of the Arctic region is viewed as extremely relevant given the impacts of the changing climate along with increases in shipping activities (for both resource exploration and tourism). Polar View's ability to improve monitoring and forecasting activities in this region is highlighted along with user testimonial praising Polar View's assistance in improving safety and efficiency of operations.
In a recent interview with Dr. Stein Sandven, co-ordinator or Arctic Regional Ocean Observing Systems (ROOS), Polar View's involvement as a main contributor to this new observing system is highlighted. During the discussion, which was recently published in Science Poles (the scientific website of the International Polar Foundation), Dr. Sandven notes that the member institutions taking part in Arctic ROOS (of which six are Polar View partners) play an important role in the development of this new observing system. The members are working together in an effort to create a harmonized picture of the situation in the Arctic by comparing observations from different instruments and by comparing simulations to observed data. Arctic ROOS is an International Polar Year (IPY) project and is contributing to the IPY data legacy by maintaining cost-effective and useful observing systems that will continue after the end of IPY. It also encourages the development of programmes that can obtain long-term data on a regular basis. The overall goal of Arctic ROOS is to create a systematic and integrated observing system of the Arctic and sub-Arctic seas for operational use.
[To read the full text of this interview on Science Poles (the scientific website of the International Polar Foundation), please visit www.sciencepoles.org. A summary of the discussion was also featured on International Polar Year website at www.ipy.org]
Every year in the extreme climate of Siberia and far eastern Russia, it becomes cold enough for long enough to completely freeze over the rivers for several months, with surface ice usually forming by late December and breaking up in May. While the surfaces of the rivers remain frozen solid, they pose little threat to the inhabitants and infrastructure of these remote regions of the Russian Federation. It is when thawing occurs that hydrological authorities, whose job it is to monitor the rivers for flooding and other hazardous phenomena related to them, must be on the lookout for ice jams and the hazards they can create.
Ice jams occur when the ice covering the surface of a river breaks up and amasses at a particular point along the river. This build-up of loose ice then blocks the normal flow of rivers, causing water levels to rise by several metres in some cases and provoking massive flood damage.
This is why organisations such as the Department of Development and Application of Hydrological Forecasts in the Krasnoyarsk Region in Siberia and the Ministry for Emergencies in the Sakha Republic in the Russian Far East have turned to Polar View's expert services for assistance in looking out for potentially treacherous river ice situations. Both organisations receive earth observation data from Canadian Polar View member organisation C-CORE, which is based in St. Johns, Newfoundland and Labrador.
In addition to having the potential to create problems for the people living within their floodplains, many rivers in the Krasnoyarsk region also serve as major transportation routes and are host to numerous hydroelectric dams which supply electricity to these remote regions. Thus having advanced warning of when this flooding might occur is essential to those living in this remote region of Siberia.
The Department of Development and Application of Hydrological Forecasts, which monitors the Ob and Yenisei River Basins in the Siberian Province of Krasnoyarsk, tries to use all available methods, including statistical analysis, mathematical models, GIS-technologies, and satellite data to predict ice jam flooding. Polar View's services are a welcome addition to their portfolio.
"Using satellite data to monitor the surface of the earth allows us to have another perspective when monitoring river ice," stated Dr. Dimitri Burakov, Professor and Director of the Krasnoyarsk Krai Science and Research Center for weather and environmental monitoring. "It is especially useful for monitoring large, sparsely populated territories like Siberia."
The department has been receiving ENVISAT and RADARSAT-1 radar image data from Polar View since 2007, after Dr. Buryukov became interested in the service following a presentation given my Dr. Sherry McHugh from C-CORE at a flood workshop he attended in Alaska. "We discussed the service a bit more after the presentation and they realised what they could do with it," Ms. McHugh recalled. In May 2007 Dr. Burakov's organisation began to obtain data of ice river classification from C-CORE, using five images throughout the river ice melting season to supplement free optical MODIS data the department obtains online from NASA's TERRA satellite and information it gathers via its own ground observation stations. In 2008, however, the department's use of the Polar View service increased significantly, using 20 images during the 2008 melting season. "We are very pleased by the quality and efficiency of Polar View's services," Dr. Burakov said of the service.
Dr. Burakov says that using radar images from the ENVISAT and RADARSAT-1 satellites compliments optical MODIS images that his department downloads for free from NASA's website. However since the MODIS images are low-resolution and the satellite cannot take images when there is cloud cover, the ENVISAT and RADARSAT-1 radar images will always provide needed information regardless of the weather.
Officials in the Sakha Republic are also making good use of Polar View's ENVISAT and RADARSAT-1 imagery. As the weather during the spring in the Sakha Republic is quite often overcast and foggy in May, relying solely on the free optical MODIS imagery during the spring break-up season is impractical and there are limited chances for making visual reconnaissance flights via helicopter. It is for this reason that the Flood Monitoring Department of the Sakha Ministry for Emergencies has been using Polar View's satellite images since 2006 to monitor the Lena River and one of its tributaries, the Aldan River, during the ice break-up season, in order to protect settlements, industries and agriculture in the region.
The Sakha Republic is no stranger to the major problems that ice jam flooding can create. With two devastating hundred-year floods taking place in 1999 and 2001, and the flood of 2001 completely destroying the city of Lensk, authorities are very appreciative of any service that helps them better monitor their rivers and predict ice jams.
Unlike the rivers in Siberia, which have dams that can be used to control the flow of the river and minimise the risk of ice jam flooding, the Sakha Republic's rivers run freely, so different methods must be used to accomplish the same goal. There have been some efforts to deepen the bed of the rivers and elevate new settlements above the level of flood waters; however authorities in the Sakha Republic control ice jam flooding mostly by darkening the ice with coal dust, cutting it, and even sometimes using explosives to break up large plates of ice. This is why the satellite imagery is very important to the Ministry of Emergencies, because it shows them where they can apply these measures.
Having heard about the Polar View service from the conglomerate's Yukon Representative, Dr. Richard Janowicz, at a Flood Working Group of the Northern Forum in 2002, the government of the Sakha Republic became interested in using the service. In 2006, an agreement was signed between the Sakha Ministry of Emergencies and C-CORE for the provision of Polar View satellite imagery during the flooding season, and every year since C-CORE has been providing satellite imagery.
According to Ms. Natalie Novik, who is Program Coordinator of the Northern Forum and is responsible for transmitting and translating information between the Canadian service providers at C-CORE and their Russian end users, the Ministry for Emergencies in the Sakha Republic is more than satisfied with the service it has been receiving. "The report that was filed this year by Mr. Bykov with C-CORE demonstrates that the correlation between the Polar View imagery and what was happening on the ground was very accurate and allowed them to proceed with the evacuation of villages in a timely fashion," said Ms. Novik in a statement.
The issue of funding for the river ice service is always prevalent. The Russian end users of the service currently receive imagery for free; however with many of Polar View's services currently being funded under the ESA's GMES program, which will eventually end at some point, other avenues of funding will need to be found in order to make the conglomerate's services self-sustainable. Some of Polar View's end-users with the means to do so pay for the services they receive, yet as Ms. Novik pointed out in a statement, the Russian end users come from "remote regions, where finances are very tight."
There are plans to address this issue currently being carried out. According to Ms. Novik, the Northern Forum is working with C-CORE to enable a Russian hub for the service to be created in Khanty-Mansiysk at the Ugra Research Institute of Information Technologies (URIIT) is located. "Once this happens," Ms. Novik stated, "it is more than likely that agreements will be passed with the other regions to provide them with imagery for a basic fee."
[To obtain more information about Polar View's Rive Ice Monitoring service, please visit our River Ice Monitoring Service Page]
BBC's radio program entitled "Digital Planet" recently featured a story on the importance of Polar View's ice monitoring service in assisting ships efficiently and safely navigate the vast icy waters of the Antarctic. A reporter from the show travelled to the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge to find out about Polar View services and interview Andrew Fleming, the Polar View Node Manager for the Antarctic region. The program noted that the Polar View project is using satellites in an effective manner to map the ice thus helping ships find the best way through the vast white continent. The story concluded that although the Polar View project is fairly new, it's already making an impact for those who sail the seas.
[To view the on-line version of the story entitled "Breaking the Ice" please visit BBC News. To learn more about Polar View services in the Antarctic, please visit our Antarctic regional services page at www.polarview.aq]
In the Canadian High Arctic where ice and snow are year-round phenomena and the sea is frozen over for a good part of the year, human settlements are few and far between, and where there are inhabitants their numbers are not very large. With the hazards that can come with living in the High Arctic, communities in these remote and harsh regions of Canada are taking advantage of Polar View's Floe Edge Monitoring Service in order to go about their daily activities.
The tiny hamlet of Grise Fiord, which lies on the banks of Jones Sound on the south edge of Ellesmere Island in Nunavut Territory, is one such community. The northernmost settlement in Canada before the Canadian Forces established Eureka and Alert stations, the tiny settlement of about 140 people uses Polar View satellite imagery throughout the year.
Being an isolated hamlet surrounded by mountainous terrain and located on Jones Sound, which is frozen during a significant part of the year, the residents of Grise Fiord use the sound as their principal transportation route in order to go just about anywhere or do anything outside the community, whether by skidoo or dogsled when the surface of the sound is frozen in winter, or by boat during the few months of the year when Jones Sound is unfrozen and navigable.
"Since we live in an area that's mountainous and you can't exactly use land routes to go anywhere, Jones Sound is our main transportation route for most of the year," explained Jimmy Qaapik, resident of Grise Fiord and sergeant of the local unit of Canadian Rangers. "Just about any travel we do is across the sound, whether we're going to visit another community or going hunting."
As a primarily indigenous community which receives food and other supplies from more southerly parts of Canada only once a year by sealift, hunting is one of the principal means by which local residents obtain food. Across Jones Sound lies Devon Island, where many people from Grise Fiord go hunting. "Many people from the community go to Devon Island to hunt for seals, polar bears, musk oxen, caribou and even wolves" explained Mr. Qaapik, "So the Polar View service is a big help to us in that regard."
A website for subscribers
For the past two years, Grise Fiord has been receiving imagery for free with the help of the Canadian Space Agency, which pays for the subscription to the Polar View Service. "Two years ago the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) was in the area doing consultations with a group from NASA for the Haughton Mars Project on nearby Devon Island," Mr. Qaapik recalled. "While they were up here they asked us what kind of help our community might need, and I mentioned to them one of the things the residents of Grise Fiord would like was satellite imagery of the surrounding area."
Since then residents of Grise Fiord have been able to access at no cost satellite imagery that can be found on a special website run by Ottawa-based firm Noetix. Every few days new RADARSAT-1 images are uploaded onto the website. "We didn't know about Polar View yet at the time really, but CSA did and they referred us to them," commented Mr. Qaapik. "CSA was even kind enough to agree to pay for the subscription to the service, and ever since, we've been able to access satellite images from the website."
A service for all seasons
Every year Jones Sound starts to freeze over along the edges of both sides in late October or early November, and by December or early January, the surface of Jones Sound is frozen solid enough to allow people to travel on the ice. However there are always hazards associated with travelling across ice. Certain areas of the ice may be thinner than others, and with climate change occurring ice conditions and extent are less predictable than they have been in the past. This is where Polar View's Floe Edge Monitoring service can help provide a safer journey across the ice. "Polar View's service helps us out during the winter by telling us where the floe edges are and where the thin ice is, especially during the winter when it's dark all the time or when the ice break-up happens between mid-June and early July," Mr. Qaapik explained. "And since they use radar to take the images, we can get images in all sorts of weather, even at night."
Polar View's floe Edge Monitoring Service is also useful in the summer after the ice has broken up enough to travel by boat. At this time of the year large chunks of multi-year ice drift into Jones Sound from the north and can float around the sound for weeks. The wind blows them back and forth before either the wind or the tide eventually moves the many ice chunks out of the sound.
As chunks of multi-year ice can be as much as 10 metres high, its presence is particularly hazardous to vessels travelling through the sound. Ice conditions can sometimes get so bad that the sound becomes impassable. "One time several years ago our annual sealift of supplies to the community couldn't come into Jones Sound due to heavy ice conditions in Jones Sound," recounted Mr. Qaapik. "It was stuck for days at the mouth of the sound because the multi-year ice was blocking the mouth of the sound. It's in these kinds of situations that Polar View's satellite data can be very useful during the summer."
In addition to the annual sealift and a tanker that brings fuel supplies to the community for the year, the residents of Grise Fiord also welcome tourists throughout the summer. Most of these tourists arrive on Arctic tourist ships and usually spend an afternoon in Grise Fiord taking walking tours, attending indigenous cultural events, and visiting the shops. These tourist ships use Polar View's service to navigate through the icy waters. "Just yesterday we had a tourist ship come into Jones Sound" mentioned Mr. Qaapik. "If they had tried to come in the day before they probably wouldn't have made it in due to he heavy ice concentrations. Polar View's imagery helped them to know when ice conditions would be more favourable."
A multitude of users
In addition to helping out tourist ships, Polar View's satellite images are also useful to Canadian Rangers when they carry out their sovereignty patrols in the Canadian High Arctic. "I'm the sergeant of the Canadian Rangers in Grise Fiord," explained Mr. Qaapik. "We use Polar View's images as much as we can during our exercises, whether on land, ice or water. We use them especially during the summer when we do our sovereignty patrols and have to travel further north, up to Eureka and Alert stations."
Even adventure seekers exploring the Arctic and braving the elements take advantage of Polar View's Ice Edge Monitoring Service in the Jones Sound area. "Sometimes we get people on expeditions coming through here, both teams and individuals, travelling on skis, on foot, or with a dog team," Mr. Qaapik said. "We pass along the images from the website to them. They always say the service is very useful and very helpful for them, and they thank us for the images."
Since 2005, two Polar View organisations - the University of Stockholm and the University of Bonn - have been collaborating with the Hydrological Service within Iceland's Orkustofnun, or National Energy Authority, in order to gain more detailed information on the melt water runoff from the Hofsjökull ice cap in Central Iceland. The Hydrological Service is charged with monitoring water runoff from Iceland's icecaps, which feed glacial rivers. On these rivers lie hydropower stations that provide electricity to the approximately 316,000 people who inhabit the Sub-arctic island nation. The service has been taking in-situ measurements of the ice caps for 20 years.
Since hydroelectric power is the principal source of electricity generation in Iceland, accurate runoff predictions are essential for the optimum performance of the hydropower systems. Three years ago, representatives from Polar View visited Iceland's Hydrological Service and gave a training course on the added value satellite observation products could provide to glaciology studies and water management agencies. Dr. Thorsteinn Thorsteinsson, a glaciologist at the Hydrological Service, and his colleagues, became interested in adding new earth observation tools that Polar View offers to their ice cap monitoring programme.
"Ian Brown and Regina Hock from the University of Stockholm and Matthias Braun from the University of Bonn came and gave excellent presentations about how they had been using the glacier monitoring service to monitor glaciers in Scandinavia," recalled Dr. Thorsteinsson. "Since then, we've collaborated with Polar View in monitoring the Hofsjökull ice cap in central Iceland." Both Polar View member institutions use satellite imagery to derive snow facies maps (snow, firn and ice extent on a particular glacier), glacier velocities (how fast glaciers flow via plastic flow), map the outlines of glaciers and ice caps and how they change, and other important information.
Dr. Thorsteinsson has cooperated with both institutions primarily via e-mail. "They send us satellite imagery and facies maps of the Hofsjökull Ice Cap in central Iceland, and in return we've provided them with ground truth, i.e. data and information collected during ice-cap expeditions" he stated. "We calculate the runoff every year using models based on our mass balance data." The Hydrological Service currently carries out mass balance measurements and aerial surveys of the Hofsjökull Ice Cap as well as other ice caps in Iceland, collecting winter accumulation data and summer ablation data as well as monitoring how the firn line changes over time. Combined, the mass balance and remote sensing data allow, among other things, modelling of future runoff changes in response to atmospheric warming.
With glaciers and ice caps all over Iceland retreating at a steady rate of 20 m and even as much as 50 m a year since 1995, Polar View's ability to track this phenomenon via satellite makes it easier to monitor this retreat. About 10% of Iceland, (approximately 11,000 km2), is covered by ice, and every year about 20 km2 of ice cover disappears. This trend is expected to continue as the climate continues to warm, and will translate into faster melting and higher runoff rates for the next 60 to 70 years, after which runoff rates will decrease due to the diminished area of the ice caps.
Polar View's services help the Hydrological Service monitor areas of the glacier that they would otherwise not be able to monitor. "On Hofsjökull glacier we're measuring three basins that deliver water to three glacial rivers. Two of these rivers have already been harnessed for hydropower production," explained Dr. Thorsteinsson. "But these three basins that we measure with our stake nets represent just over 40% of the total area of the ice cap. We can't cover the rest of the ice cap because it's difficult and dangerous to traverse, due to crevasses and other hazards. The satellite data, in particular the facies maps, are very useful in connection with runoff models to assess the potential runoff from the areas that we can't measure in-situ."
While the collaboration has sometimes been sporadic, Dr. Thorsteinsson is pleased that he's collaborating with Polar View's satellite data experts. "It's a very positive collaboration for us, which we hope will continue in the future," he stated. "We've even talked about expanding the scope of the collaboration, working on mapping the velocity fields on the Hofsjökull ice cap. Our GPS data on both summer and winter velocities during the last 15 years would be very valuable for comparison with satellite-determined velocity fields, which can be produced from archived data" Dr. Thorsteinsson said. "It would be interesting to do this for some of the outlet glaciers from Hofsjökull because they display what is called surge activity, which means that after a period of very slow movement or retreat over years or even decades they suddenly move forward rapidly - several hundred meters or even kilometres within a few months."
Dr. Thorsteinsson also mentioned other potential areas of collaboration. "Another thing we've talked about is to increase satellite monitoring of the western part of the Vatnajökull ice cap, the largest ice cap in Iceland. What makes it so interesting is that the surface of this ice cap is often affected by the geothermal and volcanic activity beneath the ice, leading to melting and the formation of sub-glacial lakes. This produces 2 km wide depressions in the surface of the ice cap, and when these sub-glacial lakes empty out, leading to flooding in rivers flowing from the ice cap, then the depression can be lowered by 100-150 metres over two days or so. These are quite dramatic events that occur every 1-3 years, and regular satellite monitoring of these phenomena would aid our current ground-based efforts to study the jökulhlaup (glacier flood) mechanisms and ice dynamics of the region."
Polar View played a key role in helping Russian extreme sportsman Fedor Konyukhov complete the inaugural run of the Antarctica Cup Ocean Race solo division in his monohull yacht Trading Network Alye Parusa. Being the first yacht race to completely circumnavigate Antarctica, the Antarctica Cup Racetrack took Konyukhov through the South Atlantic below 45°S, making him the first ever sailor to race solo from Cape Horn to Cape Agulhas through treacherous, iceberg-filled waters. He completed the race on May 7th after spending 102 days at sea, setting a record for future competitors in the race to beat.
The organisers of the Antarctica Cup Ocean Race used Polar View member organisation C-CORE's satellite data to spot icebergs in one of the most treacherous parts of the Antarctica Cup Racetrack, the South Atlantic. Konyukhov's ground team received satellite images every few days to help guide the lone yachtsman through a region of the world's oceans that is known for having high concentrations of icebergs.
Konyukhov was very appreciative of the assistance. "I would like to thank Polar View for its excellent service," Mr. Konyukhov stated. "I felt very secure and confident knowing that such an experienced and reputable organisation was monitoring this particular section of the Antarctica Cup Racetrack."
Polar View's services were important in ensuring the safety of the Russian sportsman during his voyage. "A solo sailor has one major difficulty: he can't be on deck or on watch for 24 hours," explained Konyukhov. "Boats designed and built for campaigns like the Antarctica Cup are very strong and can withstand hurricane force winds and giant waves. The main threat, however, is collision with floating objects. The Antarctica Cup Racetrack runs far to the south, below 45°S and close to 60°S. This is an area with intense ice drift. The service that Polar View provided made it possible to sail away from confirmed icebergs and stay on maximum alert in those areas."
Bob Williams, the Antarctica Cup Ocean Race Chairman, was also very appreciative of Polar View's contribution. "The service provided to us by Polar View through the people at C-CORE was instrumental in enabling us to appreciate the magnitude of icebergs scattered from south of the Falklands Islands to south of Cape Agulhas - almost the entire span of the southern reaches of the South Atlantic Ocean. The daily iceberg position reporting we received enabled us to alert Fedor Konyukhov to the position of identified icebergs and was of invaluable assistance to Fedor and his shore team in plotting a corridor to avoid the major icebergs identified."
Polar View made use of Wide Swath Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) data on iceberg distribution taken by the European Space Agency's Envisat satellite. This, according to C-CORE satellite specialist Pradeep Bobby, is "an effective way of covering the large areas involved in yacht races," as it allows large sections of the ocean to be covered at a time.
This resolution is limited to 150 metres, which makes it possible to "see" icebergs 150 metres by 150 metres and larger. However knowledge of iceberg behaviour makes it possible to accurately predict where other icebergs might be. "Although the 150 metre resolution prevents us from reporting on smaller icebergs and ice pieces, knowledge of the concentration of the larger icebergs indicates where the smaller ice pieces can be expected," said Mr. Bobby.
Mr. Williams was quite happy to have the service, regardless. "Whilst not every iceberg, and certainly smaller icebergs, could be located, the knowledge provided by Polar View put us all on 'red alert' and made us aware of the magnitude of icebergs to be avoided," he explained. "This is a 'must' service for us as we plan further events around the Antarctica Cup Racetrack."
Although Polar View helped him through a stretch of the racetrack with some of the highest concentrations of ice, Konyukhov would have preferred having the service available from beginning to end. "I used Polar View's data in the Southern Atlantic from Cape Horn to Cape Agulhas. I only wish I'd had this service for the entire length of the Antarctica Cup Racetrack. This would have given peace of mind to me and my support crew on shore all 102 days of the race."
While Konyukhov has no immediate plans to undertake another adventure such as the Antarctica Cup anytime soon, except perhaps with the help of a crew, he hopes that "future competitors circumnavigating Antarctica will benefit by having detailed iceberg tracking data provided by Polar View."
Polar View's Iceberg Monitoring service and its partnership with the International Ice Patrol is featured in a recent article published in The Day (local newspaper of New London, Connecticut, USA) entitled "Satellites May Replace Patrols". The article notes that the International Ice Patrol has teamed with Polar View to use satellite technology on a trial basis. Using the confirmed iceberg locations from the International Ice Patrol, Polar View provides computer algorithms to better identify icebergs and differentiate them from ships.
[To view the article in full, please visit The Day online at www.theday.com, or to obtain more information about Polar View's Iceberg Monitoring service, please visit our Iceberg Monitoring Service Page]
The British Government, in conjunction with Google Earth Outreach and in collaboration with the Met Office Hadley Centre and the British Antarctic Survey, has launched a new layer in Google Earth that utilizes geographical information to show how climate change will affect our planet and its people. British Antarctic Survey (a Polar View team member) has developed a layer (which links to the Polar View project and activities), which presents details on how they monitor and measure the effects of climate change in Antarctica. This feature presents images that show the retreat of the ice from this environmentally sensitive region. To view Google Earth Outreach - Climate Change in Our World Antarctica please visit earth.google.com/outreach or to view the press release from the British Antarctic Survey please visit www.antarctica.ac.uk.
The Honourable Minster of Environment and Conservation, Charlene Johnson, formally announced that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has allocated funding in the 2008 Budget to assist with the continuation of Polar View's monitoring of ice conditions on the Exploits Rivers. She noted that Polar View services are crucial for providing advance flood warning to the residents of Badger and to the Fire and Emergency services agency and indicated that the government is committed to using the best available technology to service the people of the province of Newfoundland. To read the press release in full please visit www.releases.gov.nl.ca.
[To obtain more information about Polar View's Rive Ice Monitoring service, please visit our River Ice Monitoring Service Page]
During debate in the United Kingdoms Upper House on May 15, 2008, passenger safety and environmental regulations concerning tourist ships in Antarctic waters were discussed at some length. The advantages of Polar View's high-resolution sea ice and iceberg information in the Antarctic was highlighted and it was suggested "that this vital sat-nav service be made mandatory and provided free". Further details of the discussion can be found at www.publications.parliament.uk.
[To obtain more information about Polar View services in the Antarctic, please visit our Antarctic Regional Services Page]
Since May 2006, Polar View has been a key partner in the development of the icebergfinder.com website that provides iceberg location information in "Iceberg Alley" off the Atlantic coast of Canada. Kelley Dodge, Polar Views Iceberg Expert states "I believe the province (of Newfoundland and Labrador) recognizes that the website contributes to tourism within the province and supports the site for this reason. We have received a lot of very positive feedback from the tourism operators as well as tourists. We have also won several awards that illustrate the success of icebergfinder.com." The Department of Tourism and Culture has committed funds in the 2008 Budget to cover the labour costs to process the imagery for the current iceberg season. Additional funding support is provided by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the Canadian Space Agency through its Earth Observation Application Development Program.
The website has had a great deal of positive feedback from tour operators and tourists that note "Great web site! We did see icebergs when we visited Newfoundland this past August and I was able to pinpoint where they were the day before we left."
Others indicated, "this site is very useful. I will use it to influence the timing of my next trip to Newfoundland. I am always amazed by these beautiful works of nature."
[Please visit www.icebergfinder.com to launch the iceberg map or view the photo gallery]
In the northernmost parts of the Canadian territory of Nunavut, snow and ice are part of everyday life. Thick ice covers the territory's waterways for the majority of the year, and knowing the location of the ice edge is important for both the convenience and safety of those living, working or even vacationing in the territory.
This is where Polar View's services make a significant difference. With climate change making annual ice conditions less and less predictable in the Arctic regions of Nunavut, Polar View's RadarSat images make it possible to keep an eye on what's happening with the ice from high above the earth.
Since snow and ice covers the ground for most of the year, it's more practical to get around by snowmobile than by other means of transportation. When the territory's waterways are frozen solid, it's possible to drive snowmobiles across them, which makes them a primary transportation route during much of the year. RadarSat images provided by Polar View help the inhabitants of the far north plan their trips across the frozen surfaces of places such as Eclipse Sound, Baffin Bay and Lancaster Bay.
"People travel on the ice a lot, and they use the images to find out where the floe edge and open water is, or where the smooth ice is, since it's easier to travel across," Brian Koonoo, park warden at Sirmilik National Park, located in the northern part of Baffin Island. "It's especially useful if you're travelling far between communities, or if you're planning hunting trips." In fact, floe edge maps are posted in public spaces as soon as they become available, and hunters consult them all the time.
According to Mr. Koonoo, the images can also be useful when planning a trip across land. "You can use them to find out how much snow there is on the glaciers on places like Baffin Island," the largest island in Nunavut and the whole of Canada. "You're using the same images, only a different application."
The RadarSat images are delivered at least once a month throughout the entire year. The satellite data is stored on an online system and delivered electronically over the Internet, form which users can download and print the images.
Images are produced every week or two between November and April, when the ice is usually frozen solid enough to travel on, as well as during the melting season between April and June, when travelling on the ice starts to becomes more hazardous. Fewer images are produced during the summer when there is less ice.
As a park warden, the imagery Polar View provides can also make his job easier. "We use the satellite images whenever we do search and rescue. Sometimes people's snowmobile breaks down out on the ice, or they get lost, or stranded. The imagery helps us with planning our operations."
In fact, concern for safety was one of the primary reasons that Parks Canada became interested in using the service. "It all started after more people were getting stranded on the ice near the floe edge. I was actually one of those people who got stranded on the ice in Lancaster Sound along with a group of students and elders. After that people got interested in using the satellite images."
In addition to helping find good transportation routes, Polar View's RadarSat images are a big help to the tourism industry in Nunavut. "Tourists come up here looking for wildlife," explained Mr. Koonoo. "They need to know where the floe edge and the open water is because the interesting animals can be found near the floe edge."
In fact as the ice breaks up and the floe edge retreats between April and June, animals such as whales seals, walruses and polar bears start turning up at the edge of the ice floe. The height of the tourist season, during which cruise ships come to northern Nunavut form further south to do sightseeing of the arctic landscape and fauna, lasts between July and September.
[To obtain more information about Polar View's Ice Edge Monitoring service, please visit our Ice Edge Monitoring Service Page]
As part of its activities during the International Polar Year (IPY), the research vessel Tangaroa from New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) conducted a survey of marine biodiversity off the coasts of Antarctica under the Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML) project. This was Tangaroa's fourth visit to the Ross Sea and seventh to Antarctic waters. The ship spent more than seven weeks at sea from late January until mid-March taking samples of marine life from 39 different sites in and around the Ross Sea. The expedition was also able to obtain images of life on the ocean floor and filmed 55 hours of footage of the fascinating undersea Antarctic marine life.
For any expedition vessel heading to the Antarctic, however, sea ice is a significant hazard. Its presence can limit the activities that can be carried out during a scientific expedition, especially one sampling life below the ocean surface. During the austral summer of 2007-08, sea ice conditions in the Ross Sea were at their worst in twenty or thirty years. Fortunately for the crew of Tangaroa, EnviSat images provided by Polar View were able to help them contend with the heavy ice conditions.
Since Tangaroa began its surveying and sampling expeditions in the Ross Sea and the surrounding area in 2001, the crew has used whatever satellite data that have been available. During this year's IPY CAML expedition, however, the addition of Polar View earth observation products to their portfolio made a significant difference according to expedition leader John Mitchell of NIWA.
During the expedition planning stage, Polar View's AMSR-E images came in handy when planning the route and the sampling sites. "For the few months prior to departure a close eye was kept on the ice conditions using available data from web sites, including the Polar View AMSR-E images," said Mr. Mitchell. "These images were very useful in our assessment of what areas in the Ross Sea were potentially available for us to work in."
Once the expedition reached the Antarctic the first week of February, John Mitchell and his crew took advantage of Polar View's EnviSat images to plan day-to-day activities. "To get to the Ross Sea we had to cross 250 nautical miles of ice barrier," John recalled. "We were getting the EnviSat imagery, which had a latitude/longitude grid on it, allowing us to geo-reference it against our survey plan. We could look at where our sampling sites were relative to the sea ice."
However ice conditions in the Antarctic can change rapidly, and the crew of Tangaroa had to change the itinerary accordingly. Fortunately new EnviSat imagery was made available every three days or so with a rapid turnaround time of about a day between data collection and delivery of the image. "We were altering our plan every couple of days based on the EnviSat imagery," recounted John Mitchell. "We were constantly looking at where we could go. Tangaroa has an ice rating of 1C, which means it can navigate in only a third to a half metre of first-year sea ice; anything thicker than that we've got to avoid. Looking at the way the ice was going we could see which areas were clear and which areas we needed to avoid. If we couldn't go to a certain area we'd modify our programme and do our sampling somewhere else."
This year's expedition was also two weeks longer than previous expeditions, lasting a total of 51 days, 40 of which were spent in Antarctic waters south of 60°S. "Polar View's imagery gave us the confidence to stay and work in the area," explained Mr. Mitchell. So being able to see what was happening as far as the trends in sea ice from the images we were getting every three days or so made a significant difference."
As a veteran of all four of New Zealand's Ross Sea expeditions aboard Tangaroa, John Mitchell can attest to the added value that Polar View's services made during the last voyage. "The first year we went down there, in 2001, we didn't have the kind of data and imagery that Polar View is providing now. Back then, as soon as the ice got bad in the Ross Sea, we had to get out and head to the Balleny Islands," which are to the north of the Ross Sea and usually ice-free that time of year. "This time, we were able to use all of the information extensively to give us the confidence to stay in the Ross Sea and carry on working."
Mr. Mitchell also sees Polar View's earth observation services as an essential service for the entire scientific research community in the Antarctic. "I'm happy to see this kind of information out there for the vessels working in the Antarctic during the IPY," he said. "It's important to the research community because we're not military so we don't have a lot of the satellite military information that the Americans have, for example. We in the research community rely a lot on this kind of easily accessible information, and that makes a big difference both to vessel safety and research programmes."
Andrew Fleming, Polar View team member from British Antarctic Service, recently spoke at the European Geosciences Union General Assemble held in Vienna, Austria in early April. His lecture, entitled "The Contribution of Satellite Earth Observation to the International Polar Year" highlighted the contributions of the Polar View project.
Snow-covered mountains can be a very beautiful sight to behold, whether you're a fan of winter sports or simply enjoy an idyllic winter scene. However it is important to keep in mind that snowfall on mountains can be hazardous as well. As a form of stored water, snow sitting on top of mountains has the potential to create floods if meteorological changes (usually rapid temperature change coupled with heavy rains) cause it to melt off too quickly. Saturated soils and aquifers or frozen soils that prevent water from infiltrating ultimately result in flood conditions.
Frequent temperature variations in the mountains of the Black Forest in the German Federal State of Baden-Württemberg during the winter allow snow to accumulate, melt and refreeze several times. This in turn creates variations in the amount of runoff in streams and rivers, such as the Neckar, which eventually joins the Rhine, or the Danube.
The Flood Forecast Centre Baden-Württemberg regularly provides runoff forecasts calculated using different mathematical models. In order to obtain reliable forecasts it is necessary to include in the models the processes of snow accumulation, compaction, water storage within the snow cover, snow melt and refreezing. The flood forecasts are provided via different means, including being posted on a regularly updated website and by teletext.
Along with in-situ measurements taken at several snow monitoring stations throughout the different catchment areas, the Flood Forecast Centre has been using Polar View's earth observation data provided by VISTA over the past three winters to gain information about the range of snow cover over a large area.
"We use snow cover maps from Polar View to compare the modelled and the satellite-measured extension of snow cover and, if necessary, to correct the conditions of the snow cover within the hydrologic model explained Werner Schulz, hydrologist at the Flood Forecast Center Baden-Württemberg. The satellite data, which are provided by medium resolution optical imagery (NOAA-AVHRR) and by ENVISAT ASAR, have proved to be useful.
Several snow-melt induced floods in Baden-Württemberg during the winter of 2005-06 were analysed after the event. The analyses showed that Polar View's snow maps could have helped to improve the forecasts for two flood events. Ground measurement stations give accurate information about snow cover, but it is impossible to get a bird's-eye overview of the entire region without using satellite data.
Although there hasn't been much snow in the Black Forest for the past two years, Mr. Schulz recognises the value of Polar View's services to the Flood Forecast Centre in Baden-Württemberg. "Without Polar View's services, we wouldn't have the same capabilities and the quality of our forecasts could diminish for certain flood events."
[To obtain more information about Polar View's Snow Monitoring service, please visit our Snow Monitoring Service Page]
Polar View's timely images of the Antarctic sea ice and shelves were instrumental in assisting glaciologists from both British Antarctic Survey and Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado identify and monitor the astounding break up of the Wilkins Ice Shelf in late March. Further details on this story (including an animation of the break-up) can be found at the following links:
A recent article in the Belgium edition of PARIS MATCH - Une équipe de héros scientifiques - celebrated the success and accomplishments of the BELARE expedition to the Antarctic. Polar View imagery was essential in guiding the expedition to its final destination (see previous press release dated December 14, 2007). Featured prominently in the article is an example of Polar View high-resolution imagery, used by the expedition to safely navigate its course.
While providing iceberg detection services to the Antarctica Cup Ocean Race (see related press release below dated February 15, 2008), Polar View's iceberg monitoring team detected a large fissure in the massive iceberg, know by experts as A53A, located due south of the South Georgia Island. Several days later, the iceberg split into two parts with both smaller bergs measuring approximately 30 km in length. Polar View's iceberg expert Des Powers notes "the break-up of this berg has meant that there is now an even larger volume of icebergs in the region. This presents a larger hazard than before because now we have two icebergs that could possibly follow different paths. These bergs are in relatively warm waters so they are bound to calve off thousands of smaller icebergs and ice islands." These changes in the remote area of the Antarctic were detected using data from the European Space Agency's Envisat's Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR). Further detail can be found in three related web stories noted below:
[To obtain more information about Polar View's Iceberg Monitoring service, please visit our Iceberg Monitoring Service Page]
The Baltic Sea is a vitally important waterway to the economies of dozens of countries that use it as a regular shipping route. Almost 90 % of the European Union's external trade and over 40 % of its internal trade takes place by sea. About 17% of the EU's commercial shipping traffic passes through ports on the Baltic Sea.
Sea ice can be a major hazard for commercial vessels that haul lumber, oil, natural gas, minerals and commercial goods. Every year during the winter and early spring ice forms on the surface of the Baltic Sea. While ice cover varies from year to year, during an average winter about 50% of the Baltic Sea's surface will be covered in ice. A network of icebreakers in the Baltic Sea region routinely clears a path through the ice in order to give shipping traffic clear lanes for safe passage. Each winter icebreakers help between 6000 and 7000 vessels navigate ice-covered areas of the Baltic Sea.
In order to plan their operations, icebreakers serving the Baltic Sea region have come to rely on Polar View's sea ice forecasting service. Two member organisations of the Polar View consortium have been providing the kind of vitally important data on sea ice conditions that the icebreakers need. For the past two years, the Finnish Institute of Marine Research (FIMR) and the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI) have been providing daily updates on sea ice conditions. Using RADARSAT and ASAR satellite data, both organisations gather the latest data and make predictions for various sea ice parameters, including ice thickness, ridged ice thickness, ice motion, and concentrations of compressed and deformed ice.
"We use Polar View's services for our icebreaker network. It's used on board every Finnish and Swedish icebreaker and in the service centres that coordinate icebreaking operations in Finland and Sweden," said Ulf Gullne, head of the Icebreaking Service at the Swedish Maritime Administration. "The service is an essential operational planning instrument that we use on board the icebreakers so they can see how the ice is changing, see if the ice is forming ridges, follow ice drift, and so on."
The data each organisation provides is slightly different. The FIMR provides short-term data that is useful for immediate planning (the next 10-12 hours) and operates a website on which one can see both current ice conditions and predictions for the next 45 hours. The SMHI provides longer-term forecasts that are more useful for land-based service centres making plans for the icebreakers during the next week to ten days.
Since the sea ice monitoring service to the Baltic Sea region, the icebreakers and the commercial vessels that rely on them have come to rely heavily on the sea ice information they receive free of charge from Polar View. Services that the Polar View consortium provides are made possible by funding under the under the European Commission's and European Space Agency's Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) Programme.
"Polar View's sea ice monitoring service has greatly improved the safety of navigating through the ice," said Mr. Gullne. "After having used it for a few years now, it has become necessary for planning, especially in the long-term for figuring out potential safety hazards and determining if traffic restrictions need to be imposed. The service is also getting better and better all the time."
In fact, the Polar View ice forecasting service has become so essential to the icebreakers and the other ships in the Baltic that if the service were to disappear or be significantly reduced due to a cut in funding, its absence would be felt profoundly in the region.
"Without the Polar View service we would need to make major changes in how we operate." Mr. Gullne stated. "We'd have to go back to relying only on the knowledge and skill of meteorologists in predicting the current and the coming ice situation. We'd also lose having a good overview of ice conditions across the entire Baltic Sea region at a given time."
No ice forecasting service would also make navigating the Baltic Sea under heavy ice conditions more perilous. Mr. Gullne believes that "not having an accurate and reliable ice prediction service could pose a greater risk to the large oil tankers approaching the Gulf of Finland during the winter."
[To obtain more information about Polar View's Sea Ice Monitoring service in the Baltic Sea region, please visit our Baltic Sea Services Page]
Six Polar View partners have joined the recently created Arctic Regional Ocean Observing System (Arctic ROOS). This group has been established by 14 member institutions from nine European countries working actively with ocean observation and modeling systems for the Arctic Ocean and adjacent seas. One of the goals of Arctic ROOS is to contribute to the legacy of IPY, maintaining cost-effective and useful observing systems after the end of IPY. To learn more about this group, please visit www.arctic-roos.org.
Having heard about Polar View's reputation in providing satellite data for the Volvo Ocean Race and the Velux 5 Oceans Race, the organisers of the Antarctica Cup, a brand new race that will be the first to completely circumnavigate Antarctica, have asked Polar View for their expertise in helping guide competitors through some of the most difficult waters in the world. With its start and finish lines at Albany, Western Australia, close to Cape Leeuwin, the Antarctica Cup Racetrack runs 14,000 nautical miles, taking competitors around a three-lane track running between 45 and 60°S. Participants must contend with small islands and icebergs as well as some of the harshest weather conditions that Mother Nature can throw their way.
Barry Pickthall, a veteran reporter who has covered these kinds of ocean races since 1971 and is now the Antarctica Cup's official press officer, can attest to the kind of challenging conditions contestants usually encounter when sailing in the mid latitudes of the Southern Ocean. "Nine days out of ten, the weather is awful. Visibility is very low. It's often raining, sleeting or snowing. And on the tenth day, the winds can be tempest strength!"
Since they are constantly moving, icebergs are a particular danger to racing yachts, especially in areas where their distribution is dense. Icebergs originate from the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet and drift northward, some reaching as far north as 46°S before melting entirely.
"Spotting a white iceberg against a grey background in poor weather conditions is not that easy," Pickthall pointed out. "When there are multiple yachts racing in this part of the world, the lead yacht usually plays chicken with the icebergs and reports to the yachts behind when one is spotted. With Fedor Konyukhov, the Russian adventurer currently trailblazing a solo record around the Antarctica Cup Racetrack, no one is playing point man for him, so the Antarctica Cup Race Management called on Polar View's services to help pinpoint these icebergs using satellite imagery."
While previous yacht races have charted courses south of the Antarctic Convergence (where the warmer waters of the mid-latitudes end and the cold waters of the Antarctic begin), none have traversed the South Atlantic, where there is a much higher concentration of icebergs.
"Since this is the first time that a yacht race has ever been conducted in the South Atlantic, there is less data available in terms of iceberg population for this section of the race," said Pradeep Bobby, who is in charge of providing data for the Antarctica Cup at C-CORE, one of Polar View's member organisations. C-CORE will be supplying satellite data between gates 7 and 14 of the race, which corresponds to the stretch of ocean from a few hundred kilometres west of Cape Horn to Cape Agulhas (between 90°W and 20°E).
The inaugural run of the Antarctica Cup began on January 26th, 2008 as Russian extreme sportsman Fedor Konyukhov set out from the port of Albany, Western Australia in his monohull yacht Trading Network Alye Parusa. Konyukhov will be setting benchmarks along the route for future participants to compete against. The first multi-yacht Antarctic Cup race is planned for 2009.
As Konyukhov sails along this designated section of the Racetrack, C-CORE will be using satellite imagery to take surveys of the ocean that lies ahead of him. Starting a few days before Konyukhov crosses Gate 7, which he expects to do in early March, C-CORE will start collecting Wide Swath Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) data on iceberg distribution on the part of the track that lies in front of Konyukov using the European Space Agency's ENVISAT satellite in daily, twice daily or even thrice daily flyovers. ENVISAT is able to take data over a swath of 400 by 400km at a resolution of 150m, which makes it possible to spot the positions of large icebergs and infer the relative positions of smaller bergs and even growlers, which are commonly found in the vicinity of large ones. ASAR data can be taken even at night and through thick cloud cover, which means the satellite is capable of taking data each time it flies over the target area of the Racetrack.
As it has done for other races, C-CORE will provide two end products to Antarctica Cup Management once data is collected and processed. The first will be a text file that gives satellite parameters as well as the location and confidence level of all detected targets within the coverage area. The second is a website on which iceberg detection information will be posted.
Oscar Konyukhov, Fedor's son and shore manager who has been providing his father with daily weather updates provided by an American- based professional weather router since the start of the voyage, will also keep the 56 year-old Russian adventurer up to date with the latest iceberg information, relaying it to him as he makes his way across the South Atlantic.
Recently Richard Hall at the Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT) in Tromsø, Norway, a member organisation within the Polar View consortium, produced a short film that demonstrates the changes in snow cover in Norway and Sweden as the spring 2007 melting season progressed. The time lapse film is comprised of a series of snow maps from Polar View's snow monitoring service that KSAT compiled between March and July 2007.
"I thought it was a fun thing to do to illustrate the usefulness of the snow monitoring service," said Hall. "You can show someone a single image of snow cover on a given day, but it doesn't illustrate the service very well. So I thought I'd use the daily images we make of snow cover in Norway and Sweden over several months and put them together into a short time lapse film covering several months, just to see what would happen, and the result was quite nice. We ended up with film that was almost cloud-free in a file format that's small enough to send by e-mail."
The mapping service uses optical and radar satellite data. When there are no clouds and enough light, optical data can be used. However when cloud cover makes it impossible to take optical data, radar data can help fill in the gaps.
The 27-second film is nearly cloud-free thanks to an algorithm developed by NORUT and the Norwegian Computing Centre (Norsk Regnesentral). The area covered by the satellites used in Polar View's snow mapping service is divided into pixels, each of which covers an area of about 250 by 250 metres. Every time one of Polar View's satellites makes an overpass, the snow cover is calculated for all pixels within its range, with data for some pixels being more accurate than others. For each pixel a confidence level is assigned to it in relation to its accuracy.
During the spring 2007 melt period, a running average of each pixel was taken over seven-day periods and the pixels with the most confidence were chosen to compile a complete and cloud-free picture of snow cover in Norway and Sweden. Hall then put about 120 of these images together in chronological order to create the short film.
The majority of the end users of Polar View's snow maps are currently hydrological forecasters and hydropower companies throughout Scandinavia and Central Europe, which use the information the snow maps provide to determine how much water will be produced by the melting snow and when it will become available. Polar View also recently signed an agreement to provide snow maps to the EALÁT project, an IPY research project looking at how reindeer herders in northern Scandinavia and Russia are adapting to changing meteorological conditions and snow cover due to climate change.
The new film illustrates the potential of Polar View's snow mapping service to those who are considering using it. "It's very useful in showing just how long the snow lasts in Scandinavia," said Hall, "By seeing how the snow cover evolves over time, this film could get people to think that if I used this service in my project, in my research, or in my monitoring programme, it might be useful."
Hall also mentioned that it would be possible to make more of such films for any end user that focused on particular regions. "We could zoom in on a particular mountain valley region, for example, in order to monitor snow cover there, which could be very useful to the winter tourism industry."
[To obtain more information about Polar View's Snow Monitoring service, please visit our Snow Monitoring Service Page]
The community of Old Crow in Canada's Yukon Territory is well off the beaten path. Located on the banks of the Porcupine River in the northern tip of the Yukon, it is the northernmost permanent settlement in the Canadian territory. Approximately 250 members of the Vuntut Gwitch'in First Nation live in this small community, which is accessible only by plane (or for the more adventurous by canoe on the Porcupine River, when it's not covered by ice).
In the cold climate of the Yukon, temperatures can drop low enough to completely freeze the surface of rivers such as the Porcupine River to a depth of more than one metre in some areas. In fact along a good length of the river, which flows more than 500 km from its headwaters in the Ogilvie Mountains north of Dawson until it joins the Yukon River in Alaska, the surface freezes over completely from November until May.
The most dangerous time of year for the residents of Old Crow is in May when the ice cover on the river starts to break up. Fragments of river ice can accumulate and create ice jams, which in turn can cause water flowing down the river to back up and create floods. Every five years or so Old Crow can experience minor flooding, which is a small inconvenience to the community. However every ten to twenty years the community is subject to major flooding, during which one to two metres of water completely inundates the community and can cause significant damage.
Due to the highly permeable nature of the terrain in the floodplain surrounding Old Crow, dyking is not a feasible solution. Thus a programme to monitor the Porcupine River for potentially threatening situations run by Yukon Water Resources (a department within Environment Yukon) has been in place since the last big flood hit Old Crow in 1991.
Every year in May when the ice on the surface of the river starts to break up, Yukon Water Resources has been flying an expedition from their headquarters in Whitehorse up to Old Crow. Currently led by J. Richard Janowicz, the expedition establishes a base at Old Crow and conducts aerial surveys by plane along the length of the Porcupine River both upstream and downstream to carefully monitor ice conditions during break-up. If ice conditions pose a threat of flooding to Old Crow, Mr. Janowicz and his team inform the regional head of emergency services.
Getting help from satellites
Since May 2005, C-CORE, a Canadian engineering corporation that is member of the Polar View consortium, has been involved in a pilot study with Yukon Water Resources aimed at improving the efficiency of monitoring the Porcupine River during ice break-up. The Radarsat-1 satellite data that C-CORE provides to Yukon Water Resources under the Polar View river ice monitoring service have been giving Janowicz and his team a broad overview of ice conditions on the Porcupine River from high above the earth.
The goal has been to use the satellite data Polar View can collect to make better predictions as to when ice break-up is going to happen, since the break-up process can start anytime between the second and last week of May. Polar View's satellite images have also been able to give members of the expedition a better idea of which sections of the river to focus on during aerial survey flights.
"It's counter-productive to have to go up to Old Crow and then wait days or weeks until the ice break-up starts," says Janowicz. "With the Radarsat-1 images we've been getting from Polar View, we've been able to determine more precisely when ice break-up is about to happen. That way we have a better idea of when to get up there."
The Radarsat-1 satellite can make passes over the 250-km stretch of the river Yukon Water Resources monitors every 37 hours during the weeks before, during and after ice break-up. Since the satellites use radar imaging, they are able to take images through cloud cover and at any time of the day, even at night.
Future funding for the service
Satellite data is not free, however. Funding for the various services the Polar View consortium provides, including its river ice monitoring service, is currently provided by the European Space Agency's GMES programme. Thanks to the ESA, Yukon Water Resources has been receiving Polar View satellite data for free during its pilot study with C-CORE.
ESA is not able to fund the various satellite services indefinitely, however. It has asked the Polar View organisations to find other sources of funding if they want to continue providing the same level of service to their end users.
In informal discussions with C-CORE, Mr. Jancowicz and his colleagues at Yukon Water Resources have expressed willingness to pay for Polar View's satellite data after the pilot study comes to an end. This would allow Polar View's river ice monitoring service to continue operating in this remote area of the Yukon after the ESA can no longer fund the programme.
"This service is a great help to us," Mr. Janowicz declared. "We'd hate to see it disappear."
[To obtain more information about Polar View's Rive Ice Monitoring service, please visit our River Ice Monitoring Service Page]
Since 2003, the Water Resources Management Division of the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Environment and Conservation has been using Polar View's river ice monitoring services to help them make better predictions about when floods might occur.
The monitoring service is of particular use to the residents of Badger, a small town located in the centre of the island of Newfoundland at the confluence of Newfoundland's largest river, the Exploits River, and two smaller brooks. Badger has a long record of frequent flooding dating back to 1916, the first time a flood was witnessed. Flooding occurs when ice builds up in the Exploits River or other rivers feeding it and blocks the normal flow of the water, causing the river to overflow its banks.
The Water Resources Management Division of the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Environment and Conservation has provided a flood monitoring service since 1977. The Hydrologic Modelling Section of the Water Resources Management Division developed an Ice Progression Model (IPM) for the Exploits River, which helps predict how much ice is going to be produced in the river on a given night. Usually every year between December and March, the surface of rivers in Newfoundland such as the Exploits River freeze, making this the most crucial time of the year to monitor river ice. Since surface ice usually starts to appear downstream from Badger and gradually makes its way upstream throughout the winter until the spring thaw begins in March, the model has divided the river into 32 separate segments to facilitate modelling. Essentially the model was designed to predict whether river ice will form in a given section based on temperature and other weather conditions in each segment.
However, even models are not able to tell you everything. No one was able to predict the sudden collapse of the ice on the Exploits River on the morning of February 15, 2003. The collapse of the ice created an ice dam, which blocked the normal flow of the river just downstream from Badger. This led to a record 2.3-metre rise in water levels in the area around Badger, which completely inundated the town and created large-scale damage.
The Ice Progression Model is not able to predict the condition of the river ice or the location of the ice front along the Exploits River. It can only tell whether or not there should be ice at a given location based on certain meteorological conditions in the area. Only having much better information on the condition of the river ice prior to the flood could have given a clearer picture of what was about to happen.
In the aftermath of the February 2003 flood, Dr. Amir Ali Khan, who manages the Hydrologic Modelling Section, looked into ways of improving the capabilities of the flood prediction service. He considered making use of satellite imagery to get a regularly updated overview of ice conditions on the Exploits River. There are several places along the river where ground observations can be made, however it is impossible to observe from the ground all 50 kilometres of the river that is being monitored.
Earth observation technology was the solution. Mr. Thomas Puestow, who manages Polar View services provided by member organisation C-CORE, contacted Dr. Khan and offered to provide him and his team data and images from earth observation satellites. C-CORE was able to create from scratch a new service that uses data taken from satellites equipped with synthetic aperture radar (SAR), which can take images even through cloud cover and bad weather. The new service was at the time the first of its kind in the world (Prior to this SAR data had not before been used to look at river ice specifically).
Dr. Khan is very happy with the improvements to the flood prediction service he and his team provide at the Water Resources Management Division thanks to the river ice monitoring services C-CORE has been providing. "The satellite data have been a great help in improving the accuracy of our predictions, since we can now monitor things like where the ice front is and factor this into our models," said Dr. Khan.
The Water Resources Management Division has been using the river ice monitoring service C-CORE provides every year since the winter of 2003-04. During the first season the Polar View service was in operation, it was able to monitor the location of the ice front along the Exploits River. In the following years the service began looking at the stability of the river ice (using various change detection algorithms along the river). This winter a third and new ice classification service will be added that will be able to classify the kind of ice it can detect (whether the ice is loose, jammed or packed).
The information and images the river ice monitoring service provide on the Exploits River are readily available to local residents on the website of the Water Resources Management Division. This allows residents, business owners and authorities in Badger and elsewhere to keep abreast of any important developments.
"The river ice monitoring service has always been very, very popular," Dr. Khan mentioned. "The user community seems to be growing as more and more people get to know about it."
A number of other water management authorities in Canada and even some in Russia have adopted this service as well in the years since.