The decrease in the extent of sea ice has generated increasing interest in industrial activities in the Arctic, including oil and gas, shipping, fishing tourism and mining. In 2007 the summer (September) extent of the Arctic sea ice reached a hitherto unexpected minimum, which was followed by another even lower minimum in 2012. Since then, scientists, politicians and different stakeholders have paid increased attention to the recent and decadal variations of the sea ice cover in the Arctic. This is because they are an indication of global warming and have a strong impact on the environment, infrastructure and access to natural resources in the Arctic. The information on the Arctic-wide variations of sea ice extent and other ice properties has been obtained from satellite instruments that are capable of mapping the whole Arctic Ocean within one day. Such instruments take image strips that are typically between 1500-1800 km wide. Time series of large-scale variations of the Arctic ice cover are important for climate research, e.g. for validating and improving computer models for simulating future climate impacts on the Earth’s environment.
Maritime industries face new challenges in the High North, as the Arctic environment is characterised by low temperatures, remoteness, low visibility, darkness for several months of the year and a vulnerable natural environment. The winter climate especially may be extremely harsh, with swift changes in weather and wave conditions, and the ocean circulation has more abrupt variations than are known further south along the Norwegian coast or in the North Sea. In addition, the Arctic Ocean and the adjacent shelf seas are affected by sea ice. Small and large icebergs frequently break off from glaciers around Greenland and Svalbard and float through the icy Arctic waters. The disadvantage of wide-swath satellite instruments mentioned above is that they have only a coarse spatial resolution, which lies between a few and tens of kilometres. This means that details of ice cover structure and ice property changes are not revealed. The research carried out in CIRFA therefore focuses mainly on space-borne radar systems that are operated at swath widths of 30-500 km and at spatial resolutions between 1 and 1,000 m. Data acquisitions with radar are independent of cloud cover and light conditions, and are well suited for observations of regional and local variations of parameters characterising the state of the sea ice cover. Radar data are hence useful for validating results obtained from the coarse-resolution instruments mentioned above. Operational services, which have to provide sea ice maps and forecasting of ice conditions for seasonally or perennially ice-covered waters in support of marine transportation and offshore operations, use radar images for their analyses and ice chart production.
Sustainable future industrial operations in this area thus place new demands on monitoring and forecasting technologies with respect to accuracy, spatial and temporal resolution, reliability, robustness and automation of information services offered. These challenges call for innovative solutions, where emphasis is on efforts to extract valuable information from the enormous amounts of data that are being collected. CIRFA’s emphasis will be on integrated remote sensing and forecasting. Integrated remote sensing and forecasting is to be understood as the process of combining remote sensing data from multiple platforms, multiple sensors, and surface-based measurements, and integrating the derived information into numerical models to provide predictions of ocean and sea ice conditions on local and regional scales.
CIRFA will create knowledge and develop new methodologies and technical innovations which can enable safer maritime operations in the environmentally sensitive Arctic area. The research in CIRFA will be conducted in close collaboration with national and international research partners, and with industry actors with designated interest and expertise in these topics.
It is noted that the research and innovations to be performed in CIRFA will generate interest and impact on many aspects of Arctic research. Improved remote sensing and forecasting technology is of great significance in relation to environmental monitoring and resource management in the North, and will, in the long term, prove invaluable for the monitoring and understanding of climate change.
CIRFA’s research is organised in seven work packages: