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Titanic's legacy reaches space (Forwarded)
13 April 2012
Titanic's legacy reaches space
A century ago, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg while crossing the
North Atlantic and sank at the cost of over 1500 passengers and crew.
Today, thousands of boats cross the same iceberg-ridden path with no
loss of life -- and satellites are helping.
Frederick Fleet had the unenviable task of being the lookout on the
Titanic during the night of 14 April 1912. The ice information provided
by Frederick was the only intelligence that Captain Edward John Smith
had for navigating the ship through these treacherous waters.
One of the most important legacies of the Titanic disaster was the
establishment of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at
Sea and the International Ice Patrol (IIP).
The role of the IIP today is to monitor icebergs and establish an
iceberg danger area based on observations that are being fed into drift
and melt models.
At any time, there may be tens to hundreds of thousands of icebergs in
Arctic waters. The Ice Patrol's challenge is to determine the number of
icebergs that will drift south towards shipping lanes in the North
Atlantic between Europe and the major ports of the United States and Canada.
To date, no vessel that has heeded the Ice Patrol's published 'iceberg
limit' has collided with an iceberg.
The IIP first used marine vessels to perform routine ice patrols, but
switched to aerial surveillance after World War II. Today, aerial
surveillance is the primary ice reconnaissance method, but IIP aims to
replace expensive ice flights, and has been looking to satellite
observations as the successor technology.
"The IIP currently uses satellite-based radar observations to supplement
its aerial iceberg reconnaissance, and expects that satellites will play
a greater role in the future," said Dr Donald L. Murphy, IIP Chief
"In particular, the planned launch of a new generation of public good
satellites -- such as Sentinel-1 -- will dramatically increase the
availability of radar data and reduce the revisit time in the IIP area
"In addition, the new higher resolution generation satellites will
improve the ability to detect small icebergs."
Radars on satellites are particularly suited to iceberg monitoring
because they can acquire images through clouds and darkness.
The use of satellites for iceberg surveillance first caught the
attention of scientists in 1992 when ESA's ERS-1 satellite, carrying the
synthetic aperture radar, was launched.
Investigations into the use of satellites for iceberg detection
continued through the 1990s, but it wasn't until the initiation of ESA's
Global Monitoring for Environmental Security (GMES) programme that
wide-scale operational demonstrations began.
Since 2003 and with the assistance of GMES, the Canadian research and
development company C-CORE has been working with IIP to develop
innovative iceberg detection technologies based on satellite radar images.
Discriminating between icebergs and vessels based solely on the radar
images remains a challenge, but C-CORE, IIP and others are working to
improve the reliability of this process.
Under GMES, the Sentinel-1 constellation envisaged for launch in 2013
will provide complete coverage of the Arctic every 24 hours and
therefore play an important role for iceberg monitoring.
Data from the current CryoSat-2 and forthcoming Sentinel-3 missions will
complement this by providing information on extreme sea-ice features.
ESA's Envisat satellite, which also carries a radar used for iceberg
monitoring, is currently experiencing technical problems.
ESA has since activated a contingency agreement with the Canadian Space
Agency to continue to fulfil some of the user requirements with
Radarsat-1 and Radarsat-2 data.
[NOTE: Images and weblinks supporting this release are available at
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