A challenging environment

Living, working and recreating in the Arctic with its low temperatures, remoteness, low visibility, darkness for several months of the year and a vulnerable natural environment is challenging. The winter climate may be extremely harsh, with swift changes in weather and wave conditions, and the ocean circulation has more abrupt variations than further south.

In addition, sea ice is common in the Arctic Ocean and the adjacent shelf seas. Small and large icebergs frequently break off from glaciers around Greenland and Svalbard and float through the icy Arctic waters. Hence, accurate, reliable and timely environmental information is crucial.

Decreasing sea ice extent and thickness in the Arctic is an indication of global warming. In 2007, the summer (September) extent of the Arctic sea ice reached a minimum, which was followed by another, even lower extent in 2012. This has a strong impact on the environment, infrastructure and access to natural resources.

Shipping, fishing, tourism, mining and the oil and gas industry take advantage of less and thinner sea ice. But sea ice and icebergs are a risk for humans, vessels and maritime infrastructure. Knowledge about the location of the ice edge, the occurrence of different ice types and icebergs, their thickness and movement is crucial for safe human activity in the Arctic.

Detecting marine pollution from space

Marine pollution on the water surface, for example oil spills or harmful algae blooms, are hazardous for the environment and humans. They can be detected with similar methods as we use them for for sea ice: through satellite images, airplane or drone observations.

In satellite images, oil spills look similar to young and thin sea ice, but have characteristics that clearly identify them. Algae blooms can easily be seen in optical images. Hence, CIRFA`s research can be applied to detecting marine environmental pollution and making cleanup actions more effective.

A uniqe combination of observations and models

Research tools in CIRFA are ocean surface observations from satellite images, airplanes, helicopters, drones and from vessels or the sea ice. In addition, we build algorithms that automatically analyse satellite images to recognize different types of surfaces, for example sea ice or marine pollution, to feed models.

Combining remote sensing data and observations on the ground with the output of algorithms allows us to build more robust, accurate and reliable models. They will predict ocean and sea ice conditions on local and regional scales.

Expectations for the future

Sustainable future maritime activities in the Arctic place high demands on monitoring and forecasting technologies. They need to be accurate, reliable, robust and automatised. These challenges call for innovative solutions.

CIRFA develops knowledge and technologies which enable safer maritime activity in the environmentally sensitive and remote Arctic. In addition, we contribute to improved environmental monitoring and a better understanding of climate change.