Team: SAR Oceanography

Ship traffic density in the North Sea derived from AIS position reports

The SAR Oceanography Team at the "Maritime Safety Research Department" in Bremen develops algorithms that extract and make available to users in near-real-time information on the condition of the oceans. This information is derived from radar images collected by a variety of satellites.

This information includes:

  • Meteorological parameters like wind and wave action
  • Position and size of icebergs drifting in open water, and the type and movement of sea ice in polar regions
  • Topographic changes in coastlines and river deltas, and the shifting of narrow channels, sandbanks and shellfish stocks in the Wadden Sea
  • Estimation of underwater topography
  • Position and extent of oil slicks
  • Position and route of ships

The information obtained yields a maritime overview useful for improving ocean safety. In polar waters, for example, where sea routes can become impassable within hours because of drifting ice floes, overviews of the current situation make it possible to adjust sea routes and reduce the risk of accidents. In cases of damage, rescue efforts are facilitated by consulting up-to-date satellite images. Having precise information on wind and wave motion aids the planning, construction and servicing of offshore wind parks, for example in the North Sea, and also improves weather models and forecasts. Illegal oil dumping and prohibited fishing can be detected by identifying ships and oil slicks.

In order to obtain situation overviews that are as up-to-date as possible, data from radar satellites such as TerraSAR-X, Sentinel-1 and RADARSAT-2 are combined. Reports from ships as well as data collected in situ are also procured and processed in near-real-time.

The algorithms developed are tested in joint campaigns conducted with a variety of science, public and industrial users and modified to meet specifications.


Wind and sea state monitoring Ship and wake detection Oil spill detection
Determining underwater
topography (Bathymetry)
Iceberg detection Land-waterline retrieval

Dr.rer.nat. Sven Jacobsen
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Remote Sensing Technology Institute
, SAR Signal Processing
Tel: +49 421 24420-1852


Fax: +49 421 5970-2421

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"Monster waves" in the North Sea (
Tracking Icebergs with TerraSAR-X (
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Flyer “Maritime Safety and Security Lab“ (
Flyer ”Polar Activities” (
Flyer “Sea State Retrieval” (