International Ice Patrol tracks icebergs from space •

International Ice Patrol tracks icebergs from space


The international iceberg patrol service is now able to track drifting ice from orbit more swiftly through cloud computing.

The icebergs drifting in transatlantic shipping lines break off from the Greenland ice sheet before being carried into the Baffin Bay. From there, they either become grounded or continue southwards. Most are gradually weathered away, but some can endure dangerously far south.

On April 15, 1912, the most infamous iceberg in history collided with the Titanic just south of the tail of Newfoundland’s Grand Banks. Where more than 1500 people perished.

The disaster prompted maritime nations to establish an iceberg patrol across the North Atlantic that continues to this day. Since 1913 the US Coast Guard has run the International Ice Patrol and since and no vessel has collided with an iceberg in that time.

Within the January to July ice season, aircraft make regular flights, adding to a large amount of radar imagery from Europe’s Sentinel-1A and -1B satellites.

The Patrol uses aerial and ship sightings to feed an iceberg database which publishes daily warnings for mariners.

“Each flight lasts seven to nine hours to cover an expanse of water of 75 000 sq km or more,” explains David Arthurs of PolarView, running the Polar Thematic Platform for ESA.

“Speed is very important: we aim to get these results into the hands of the Ice Patrol as swiftly as possible – within a handful of hours at most.”

“This cloud approach will provide a bridge to the Patrol’s future by improving our ability to monitor iceberg hazards from space and continue to protect the maritime community,” noted Michael Hicks, Chief Scientist of the International Ice Patrol.

The online platform allows the easy extraction of information from a collection of satellite data and computer models, including iceberg calving and trajectory models, historical, ocean current and wind data covering the Baffin Bay, and Greenland ice sheet products from ESA’s Climate Change Initiative.

ESA’s six Thematic Exploitation Platforms allow knowledge to be extracted from large environmental datasets produced through Europe’s Copernicus program and other Earth observation satellites.

Credit: European Space Agency

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