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Detect and monitor ice-risk at sea

Sea ice and icebergs pose a significant set of challenges in and around icebound regions. The level of shipping and offshore activities in these regions is growing steadily and with it the demand for reliable sea ice information. Particularly with the melting of the Artic sea ice, the region becomes more and more attractive for oil and gas activities.

Sea ice is formed of sea water whereas icebergs are calved from coastal glaciers, thus from fresh water and aren’t encountered in the same areas. Sea ice is a major hazard that can damage ships or vessels transporting passengers, oil, natural gas or goods. Remote sensing and satellite technologies give the possibility to study sea ice and measure for instance its thickness, its spatial extent, its motion and ridges. This information is important to know to manage operations in hazardous sea ice conditions.

Use of Satellite Imagery

Satellite imagery provides wide area, synoptic pictures of the ice conditions. Since the scale of ice fields is quite large, mainly moderate resolutions are fine down to around 10m in scale. Multispectral imagery can provide more information on ice-type but in the main, SAR imagery is used due to its all-weather and day/night capability.

The data collected can be more accurate than in-situ measurements due to a higher and faster coverage of a whole area. Constant monitoring is most important to identify the risk and opportunities (for instance in opening shipping lanes).

Uses and users

Information on sea ice can help several sectors and is used in cases such as:

  • Serving of offshore platforms: The oil and gas companies need to comply with very strict standards on security and protection of the environment to monitor platforms remotely and minimize risk of damage in ice-covered areas. Earth observation plays an important role assessing the ice conditions throughout the oil and gas lifecycle. Areas of current oil and gas interest include the Barents Sea (Shtockman), east and west Greenland, and the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

  • Protecting platforms from icebergs: SAR imagery can provide regular updates on icebergs positions. Icebergs have a different distribution than sea ice and challenges oil and gas platforms particularly around Greenland, along the east Canadian coast, in the Barents Sea and, potentially, in the south Atlantic (Falkland Islands).

  • Routing ships safely (either for platforms or ports): Information on sea ice can contribute to improve navigation significantly in icebound regions. Ship need up to date information on location of ice edge and ice-free routes. Maps of the ice conditions are produced daily and delivered to ships operators and public authority. Based on these maps, ice motion, concentration, thickness and ridges can be forecasted. Icebreakers also use imagery to clear sea lanes to ensure safe passage of ships. This service can serve populated areas with ice bounded water in winter such as the Baltic, Russia, the North of China or Canada.


More than 20,000 ships travel through the Baltic to Finnish and Swedish ports on an average winter. According to EARSC analysis, between €24m and €116m per annum of economic value is being generated in Finland and Sweden thanks to the use of satellite radar images to help winter navigation in the region. There are also environmental benefits as marine pollution decreases through fewer accidents and CO2 emissions are reduced as ships save fuel thanks to more efficient routing.

As for the Arctic, according to the US Geological Survey, 30% of the world's gas and 11% of the world's oil deposits are estimated to lie beneath the region. The overall economic and environmental impacts of new shipping ways through the Arctic have not yet been made clear.




Product Standards

Ref. Project

Sea-ice and Icebergs

Polarview ESA GSE

ship and iceberg monitoring
sea ice floe edge advisory
high resolution ice charts
sea-ice thickness charts
met-ice ocean regional forecasting
medium resolution ice charting (Greenland)
global sea-ice monitoring

sea-ice and icebergs


Sea Ice mapping

Improve navigation safety and efficiency through the ice (lesser risks of pollution, less fuel consumption, less idle time)
Assistance to ice-breaking services
Maritime navigation in Icebergs areas


Ice coverage monitoring


ice thickness


radar altimeter signals of sea ice and validate retrieval of ice thickness from CryoSat-2 data

Prodex Cryosat

ice sheet dynamics


variability and changes in ice-sheet elevation;
mass balance estimates;


sea ice variability


ice variability, trends and uncertainties over the last 3 decades using passive microwave data from satellites


ice charts


Ice Navigation

KSAT Ice Navigation

provides near-real time data on Iceberg locations to enable successful navigation for ships

 KSAT Ice Navigation

Sea Ice Mapping

Improves navigation safety and efficiency through the ice (lesser risks of pollution, less fuel consumption, less idle time) 
Assistance to ice-breaking services 
Maritime navigation in Icebergs areas




Key words


Arctic Sea Ice News

Article - Scientific analysis on Sea Ice conditions

Arctic, Sea Ice



Article - Earth explorer mission to monitor Ice

Ice, Earth explorer, Mission



Project - Sea Ice monitoring in the polar regions

Sea, Ice, Monitoring, polar

Polar View


Project - an integrated ice-atmosphere-ocean monitoring and forecasting system designed for observing, understanding and quantifying climate changes in the Arctic. This project ended in 2010 and the website will not be updated.

Ice, Climate Change, Arctic



Article on ICESat (Ice, Cloud,and land Elevation Satellite) is the benchmark Earth Observing System mission for measuring ice sheet mass balance, cloud and aersol heights, as well as land topography and vegetation characteristics

Ice, Earth observation, Land


Icelights: Your Burning Questions About Ice & Climate

Article on Ice and climate change

Ice, Climate change, Earth observation


Ice mission ready for launch

Article on ESA's CryoSat-2

Ice, Mission, Earth observasion


Cryosat-2 data reveals Arctic ocean circulation

Article on ESA's CryoSat-2 findings

Ice, CryoSat-2, Earth observation


Ice Information Services

IICWG report on Socio-Economic benifits and Earth Observation requirements

Ice, Earth observation, Climate change


Ice Hazards

Report identifies requirements and reviewes the current and projected utility of earth observation space technology as applied to the detection, mapping and management of ice hazards

Ice, Hazards, Earth observation, Mapping


The use of Earth Observing Satellites for Hazard Support

Fina CEOS report on assessments & scenarios

Ice, Hazard, Earth observation


CryoLand - GMES Service Snow and Land Ice - Interoperability, Service Integration and User Access

Research paper on the CryoLand project (Requires purchasing to view full text)

Ice, snow, spatial data infrastructure, Service architecture


Digital Image Processing of Earth Observation Sensor Data

Research paper describing digital image processing techniques that were developed to precisely correct Landsat multispectral Earth observation data and gives illustrations of the results achieved (Available to subscribers and IEEE members)

Ice, Earth observation


Canadian Polar Communication and Weather (PCW) satellite system

Presentation on the new capabilities for mapping Arctic snow and ice dynamics from Highly Elliptical Orbit of PCW Satellite system

Ice, Satellite, Polar

Canadian Space Agency

An ice topography observation system (ITOS) on the ODIN platform

Research paper gives a brief description of the mission and the defined elements of the mission architecture, i.e. the mission parameters, the payload (laser altimeter) and the spacecraft (Requires purchasing to view full text)

Ice, Spacecraft


Arctic ice thickness drops by up to 19 per cent

News article on Arctic ice

Ice, Arctic, Earth observation


Atmospheric controls on sea ice motion in the southern Beaufort Sea

Research paper based on the comparison of ice and atmospheric relative vorticity fields in the Beaufort Sea region (BSR) for all weeks from 1979 to 2000

Ice, Sea, Earth observation


New ice thickness map of the Arctic unveiled

News article on the first map of sea-ice thickness from ESA's CryoSat mission

Ice, Sea, Satellite


Millimetre-Wave Aperture Synthesis Radiometry for Snow and Ice Mapping

Research paper discusses the design of a thinned-array synthetic aperture interferometric radiometer (SAIR) for dual applications

Ice, Snow, Earth observation, Wave


Measurements Of Winter Arctic Sea Ice Shows Continuing Ice Loss

News article on Arctic sea ice

Ice, Sea, Arctic, Earth observation


Norwegian Satellite Earth Observation Database for Marine and Polar Research

Full infrastructure proposal for the NORMAP project targeting an important segment of satellite based Earth Observations (EO) in the high latitude and Arctic regions

Ice, Arctic, Earth observations, NORMAP


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