Blog Post

Heritage Expeditions uses operational ice maps

Academic Shokalskiy
The Akademik Shokalskiy in the port of Hobart

The 2017/2018 expedition cruise to Eastern Antarcticas Commonwealth bay, conducted by Heritage Expeditions , was assisted with Drift + Noise’s operational ice maps. The cruise took place on the Akademik Shokalskiy , a Russian owned cruise and research ship.

Howard Whelan
Howard Whelan, expedition leader for Heritage Expeditions, uses a print-out of the operational ice maps during a briefing on board.

Expeditions to the remote and ice infested waters of eastern Antarcticas D’Urville Sea requires a variety of safety measures. An important one is the information level on-board about the stage of the ice in the target area and on the way. Drift + Noise’s operational ice maps combine three data streams:

  1. Near-real-time satellite images from the
  2. Copernius earth obeservation programme and from NASAs MODIS sensors
  3. Sea-ice concentration information from Japans GCOM program
  4. Ice drift data from the Copernicus marine environmental service.
The combination of all of these data allowed the nautical crew on board the Shokalskiy a better assessment of the present ice situation.

Twice daily a visual image with a resolution of 250m per pixel assisted the strategical planning of the cruise. During the cruise two new feature of the ice maps were introduced:

  • For easier interpretation of the images we added a transparent red overlay of lower resolution sea-ice concentration. This enabled identification of icy regions even when the ice was masked with clouds. Note the change in the middle of the animated gif below.
  • The movement of the ice over the last 48 hours.
  • vis images
    Visual satellite image of the D’Urville sea and the Commonwaealth Bay area. Satellite data are provided by NASAs MODIS sensors , ice drift data by the Copernicus marine environmental service and sea-ice concentration by the GCOM program

    For a more detailed view and tactical decisions on board, every 1-4 days a radar image ( Copernicus Sentinel-1 ) was available with a resolution of approximately 30 m. Again, interpretation was eased with a red transparent ice concentration layer in the middle of the expedition.

    sar images
    High resolution radar data provided by Copernicus, sea-ice concentration is based on JAXAs passive microwave data.

    Approximately every 14 days even higher resolution visual images recorded by Copernicus' Sentinel-2 satellite are available.

    s2 image
    Higher resolution visual images provided by Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission.

    Nathan Russ, Operations Manager & Expedition Leader at Heritage, commented after the expedition, that Sentinel-1 radar images were the most useful ones. However, delivery frequency of such images would ideally be higher, at least two times a day. Otherwise the fast-changing ice conditions in the Commonwealth bay are not captured. There is hope that the number of radar images per day might increase. The director of ESAs Earth Observation programme Josef Aschbacher twittered recently: Copernicus will be a priority in the next EU budget post 2020 .