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  • Product Sheet: River/Lake Ice

River/Lake Ice

Image credit: Hatfield Consultants



Component products

Land Cover



  • Seismic planning - identification of adverse terrain for trafficability
  • Environmental monitoring - natural hazard risk analysis
  • Logistics planning and operations - support to surveying crews for planning surveys and H&S
  • Logistics planning and operations - facility siting, pipeline routing and roads development

Geo-information requirements

  • Distribution and status of infrastructure
  • Water quantity identification


River/lake ice products based on synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite data can be delivered from the scale of a licensed project site to a regional scale that looks at cumulative impacts of multiple projects and developments. Products responds to needs that include ice related flooding, safe travel across ice cover, and grounded ice distribution as an indicator of available water sources and potential fish over-wintering habitat.

Radar images are not affected by cloud cover, meaning that a sequence of radar images can capture changes in ice cover regardless of atmospheric conditions. Ice monitoring services use methods of visual interpretation, image classification and change detection to generate products custom-tailored to user requirements.

Historical ice extent mapping is possible from a number of different radar sensors depending on the archive of radar images. New acquisitions of radar images to map ice extent may be planned, depending on the sensor.

The ice monitoring product delivers ice classification output (coded rasters) or ice extent information (vector polygons). Monitoring can include ice extent changes over time.

Known restrictions / limitations

  • A potential limitation with the river/lake ice product is the reliability of ice detection with the presence of water on ice, which can be improved with the use of other data sources, such as field observations and webcams, meteorological data, etc.
  • Ice thickness is not directly retrieved from EO, and requires field data and/or use of ice growth models
  • Ambiguities in differentiating between open water and water on ice during melt season.
  • Limited instantaneous coverage of rivers extending perpendicular to satellite pass.
  • HH polarization is minimum required data.  Dual polarization is desired.

Lifecycle stage and demand











Pre-License: Information on historical ice extent. Information on presence of ice extent in near-real-time depending on risk within operating area.

Exploration: Historical and real time information to support safe travel and operations.

Development: Critical historical information and real time for planning and design of infrastructure, to support understanding of ice conditions and risks in a proposed development area.

Production: Information on ice conditions and safe travel across ice in near real time depending on risk within operating area.

Decommissioning: Monitoring of ice conditions in support of reclamation and remediation.

Geographic coverage and demand

Demand and coverage is global, focusing on countries and areas susceptible to the formation of river and lake ice covers.

Challenges Addressed

OTM:047   Logistics planning for emergency events (emergency response planning)

HC:1213   Identify ice thickness and status for travel safety

HC:4304   Situational awareness information on water levels and lake extents and potential flooding

HC:5303   Mapping land cover trends over the project area


Input data sources

Optical: N/A

Radar: VHR2, HR1, HR2, MR1

Supporting data:

  • Low and medium-resolution optical or aerial imagery (e.g., LANDSAT-8 and MODIS).
  • Digital Elevation Models (DEM)
  • Existing non EO - hydrological networks, topographic maps, infrastructure, and assets
  • Local knowledge and field and aerial observations, local webcams, metrological data

Spatial resolution and coverage

Spatial resolution: 1-50 m.

Varies depending on input imagery used and client needs. In case of radar images speckle effects may reduce the final resolution of images.

Project site scale requirements: 1–5 m resolution with 1km coverage.

Basin scale requirements: 20–50 m resolution with 100x100 km coverage.

Minimum Mapping Unit (MMU)

Variable, depending on source data resolution, assumed scale of the final product and expected minimum size of the river and lake monitored. High resolution 25 m2, Basin 100‑250 m2, and Regional 500 m2.

Accuracy / constraints

Thematic accuracy: ice type classification accuracy is 90%.

Spatial accuracy: dependent on source data, but typically 1 pixel.

Accuracy assessment approach & quality control measures

Ground-based observations or validation surveys.

Statements of national or local institutions and local knowledge.

Frequency / timeliness

Observation frequency: Depending on sensor and beam mode (resolution/extent) selected, the frequency for new acquisitions can be as low as 3-5 days from the same satellite. Frequency of historical maps is highly variable depending on the archive.

Timeliness of delivery: Processing can be completed in near real time (< 24 hours) depending on the set up of the processing system and availability of base images.


On-demand availability from commercial suppliers.

New acquisitions can be requested globally.

Archived products available for public search. Availability may be limited for specific dates or locations.

Delivery / output format

Data type:

  • Raster
  • Vector (depending on customer needs)

File format:

  • Geotiff
  • Shapefile or any other OGC standard file formats


 Download product sheet.


Lead author:

Hatfield consultants

Peer reviewer:



Warren, Pierce

Document Title:

River/Lake Ice

# of Pages:



Internal – Project consortium and science partners


External – ESA

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