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ESA satellite guides polar explorers across disintegrating sea ice

Two Belgian explorers currently nearing the end of a staggering 2 000 km trek across the Arctic Ocean were recently guided through hazardous conditions using observations from Envisat, as sea ice in the Lincoln Sea began to break up unexpectedly.

Throughout the Arctic Arc expedition, which marks the International Polar Year, Alan Hubert and Dixie Dansercoer have been collecting snow-depth data for ESA's CryoSat-2 mission. As seasoned polar explorers, they are used to dealing with the extremely harsh, dangerous and physically demanding conditions encountered during their three and a half-month expedition from Russia to Greenland via the North Pole. Extremely low temperatures, high winds and a few fractures or openings in the ice, called 'leads', are to be expected.

However, they recently faced a potential dangerous additional challenge as their expedition neared the Greenland coastline an unanticipated chaotic break up of the sea ice in the Lincoln Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean. Apart from being dangerous, the disintegrating sea ice imposed another huge burden on the two explorers, who had no choice but to circumnavigate the open ice-free water leads.

When confronted with such challenges and critical decisions about the best way to proceed, it is comforting to note that Alain and Dixie could rely on logistical support based on data from ESA's Envisat satellite. A combination of all-weather ASAR (Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar) sensor and optical MERIS (Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer) image data are routinely analysed by Leif Toudal Pedersen from the Danish National Space Centre (part of the Danish Technical University), in order to provide expert interpretation of the ice conditions and an invaluable synoptic view of changing ice conditions along the explorer's route.

With the aid of these satellite images, Leif has been able to help the expedition to try to avoid the rapidly disintegrating ice pack in the Robson
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Contact: Malcolm Davidson
malcolm.davidson@esa.int
31-715-655-957
European Space Agency
12-Jun-2007


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