The Polar Oceans Program of the Alaska SAR Facility


  • W.F. Weeks
  • G. Weller
  • F.D. Carsey



Climate change, Deformation, Effects of ice on climate, Electronic data processing, Geographical positioning systems, Ice cover, Ice floes, Identification, Mass balance, Meteorology, Movement, Ocean waves, Pack ice, Sea ice, SAR, Alaska, Gulf of, Arctic waters, Arctic Ocean, Alaskan Beaufort Sea, Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, North Pacific Ocean


The science plan for the Alaska SAR Facility (ASF) focuses on earth surface characteristics that are of interest within the overall concept of global change and that show significant regional, seasonal and interannual variations resulting in changes in the strength of their radar returns. The polar oceans, with the continuous motion and deformation of the pack ice and the changes in the surface state of the surrounding open seas, offer excellent opportunities for such research. Because such studies require both frequent and detailed analysis of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data, a Geophysical Processor System (GPS) has been developed to speed the extraction of useful geophysical information from SAR data sets. The system will initially produce three main types of products: (a) sets of ice motion vectors obtained by automated computer tracking of identifiable ice floes on sequential images, (b) the areal extent and location of several different ice types and open water and (c) a characterization of the wave state in ice-free regions as well as within the ice in the marginal ice zone at locations where significant wave penetration occurs. Details of these analysis procedures are described. Initially the GPS is planned to process 10 image pairs/day for ice motion, 20 images/day for ice type variations and 1 image/day for wave information, with a total estimated processing time of 13 hours. A variety of projects plan to utilize the SAR data stream in studies of ice, lead and polynya dynamics and thermodynamics. A common feature of these research programs will be attempts to provide, via the coupling of the SAR data with ice property and ice dynamics models, improved estimates of the heat and mass fluxes into both the atmosphere and the ocean as affected by the characteristics of the ice cover.

Key words: SAR, radar, sea ice, image analysis, remote sensing