17. February 2016

Safer sea­far­ing with satel­lites

Radar im­age of the Lemaire Chan­nel on the Antarc­tic Penin­su­la
Image 1/3, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

Radar image of the Lemaire Channel on the Antarctic Peninsula

The Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (Deutsches Zen­trum für Luft- und Raum­fahrt; DLR) sup­plies the ex­pe­di­tion ship ‘Dag­mar Aaen’, op­er­at­ed by the po­lar re­searcher Arved Fuchs, with high-res­o­lu­tion radar im­ages in near re­al-time. This im­age shows the Lemaire Chan­nel on the Antarc­tic Penin­su­la, which the ex­pe­di­tion ship passed through short­ly af­ter the im­age was ac­quired.
DLR Antarc­tic Sta­tion GARS O'Hig­gins
Image 2/3, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

DLR Antarctic Station GARS O'Higgins

Crewed all year round, the DLR Ger­man Antarc­tic Re­ceiv­ing Sta­tion at O’Hig­gins Base (GARS O’Hig­gins) has been able to re­ceive, au­to­mat­i­cal­ly pro­cess and trans­mit da­ta via email in near re­al-time since the start of 2016. The Ger­man radar satel­lites Ter­raSAR-X and Tan­DEM-X ac­quire the da­ta and trans­mit it to the ground sta­tion.
Ex­pe­di­tion ship ‘Dag­mar Aaen’
Image 3/3, Credit: Arved Fuchs Expeditionen.

Expedition ship ‘Dagmar Aaen’

In ear­ly 2016, po­lar re­searcher Arved Fuchs is trav­el­ling around the Antarc­tic Penin­su­la on board the ex­pe­di­tion ship ‘Dag­mar Aaen’. To im­prove nav­i­ga­tion, the crew re­ceives im­ages ac­quired by the radar satel­lites Ter­raSAR-X and Tan­DEM-X in near re­al-time.

DLR produces radar images at its Antarctic station in near real time

Sailing in the regions that polar researcher Arved Fuchs is currently navigating in his ship 'Dagmar Aaen' is a not an easy task. The 'Ocean Change' expedition is travelling around the Antarctic Peninsula, stopping off at a number of research stations to investigate how climate change is impacting the local environment. The expedition receives support from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), and the ship has now reached Deception Island. The DLR Earth Observation Center (EOC) is providing the crew with high-resolution radar images acquired by the German TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X satellites. The data from space is received at theDLR German Antarctic Receiving Stationat O'Higgins Base (GARS O'Higgins), automatically processed on the ground in near real-time (NRT), and then transmitted directly to the ship. The 'Dagmar Aaen' crew can access the images to navigate the icy world of the Antarctic just one to two hours after they were acquired.

Data for safe navigation

"Since the beginning of this year, not only have we been able to receive satellite data here in our Antarctic station, but we have been in a position to process the information on behalf of users in near real-time," explains DLR researcher Kathrin Höppner. To accomplish this, the ship transmits its position to EOC in Oberpfaffenhofen, which then instructs the two satellites to acquire images of the relevant region roughly 24 hours later. These space images are extremely useful for Arved Fuchs: "The satellite images provide information that would have been unimaginable for previous generations of seafarers. This imaging system will revolutionise the process of selecting the correct route and is certain to make navigation significantly safer."

Detecting small icebergs

The advantage of radar images – compared with optical satellite data – is that they can be acquired regardless of the time of day or the presence of cloud cover. They clearly show which expanses of water are covered by ice and what routes would provide ships with relatively unobstructed travel. "The high-resolution images we receive show the crew exactly where the water is covered by ice," says Höppner. The image products have a spatial resolution down to three metres. The radar satellites are even able to detect small icebergs, and they provide a KML (Keyhole Markup Language) file to enable the assessment of ice conditions using the Google Earth program. In return, the ship's crew sends on-site data and information to the DLR researchers, which they use to validate and expand the NRT service.

Arved Fuchs and 'Dag­mar Aaen' will continue their expedition around the Antarctic Peninsula, investigating climate change and how it impacts the southernmost continent, until the end of February 2016. During this time, the radar satellites be their 'guides'.

  • Manuela Braun
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Pro­gramme and Strat­e­gy, Space Re­search and Tech­nol­o­gy
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-3882
    Fax: +49 2203 601-3249
    Hansestraße 115
    51149 Cologne
  • Dr Kathrin Höppner
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    DLR Ger­man Re­mote Sens­ing Da­ta Cen­ter, In­ter­na­tion­al Ground Seg­ment
    Telephone: +49 8153 28-1163
    Fax: +49 8153 28-1363
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Köln

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