It is perhaps fitting that at the beginning of the International Polar Year, an ambitious airborne campaign is now underway and realising excellent results in the extreme north of Europe in support of ESA's Sentinel-1 mission - which amongst other application areas will contribute to ice monitoring.
Carrying a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), the images that Sentinel-1 will provide are particularly well suited for applications based on mapping sea ice. High-resolution ice charts, monitoring icebergs and forecasting ice conditions are examples of important application areas that are expected to benefit greatly from Sentinel-1, which is being developed by ESA in support of GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security).
Developing the mission to meet the users' needs in a variety of application areas is of utmost importance. A major challenge for Sentinel-1 is to ensure that the satellite will yield data with the quality and timeliness that users truly need. It is not surprising therefore, that airborne campaigns play an important role in helping with the design of these missions as the experiments carried out simulate satellite data long before the actual launch of the mission.
"ESA is putting a tremendous effort into the design and implementation of the Sentinel-1 mission," says Malcolm Davidson, Sentinel-1 Mission Scientist. "While this effort might be invisible to future users of Sentinel-1 products, it is critical that we validate the modes of operation and quality of data products ahead of launch. The IceSAR campaign is allowing us to simulate Sentinel-1 radar images over ice well before launch in 2011, and better prepare for the mission."
Now one week into the IceSAR campaign, a few surprises are being revealed. Unexpectedly, there is a lack of ice even where the campaign is being carried out near Longyearbyen in Svalbard, which is way above and Arctic Circle and only 10 degrees from the North Pole.