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ESA satellites focusing on the Arctic
Date:12/2/2008

The Arctic is undergoing rapid transformation due to climate change, pollution and human activity. ESA's ERS and Envisat satellites have been providing satellite data of the region for the last 17 years. These long term data sets in combination with ESA's future missions will be key in implementing the newly adopted European Commission policy called 'The European Union and the Arctic Region'.

The policy highlights new opportunities in the region such as the opening up of long-sought transportation routes due to receding ice. However, it focuses on the need to carry out these activities in a sustainable manner.

In situ research is difficult to carry out in Polar Regions because of the remoteness and harshness of the area. From their unique positions in space, Earth-observing satellites provide effective means of continuously monitoring these regions.

The Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) sensor aboard Envisat is especially suitable for monitoring the Arctic because it can acquire images through clouds and darkness conditions often found there. ESA is devoting about half of its radar instrument resources to polar area acquisitions.

In 2007, ASAR data showed that the Arctic area covered by sea ice had shrunk to its lowest level since satellites began monitoring the area nearly 30 years ago. In 2008, ASAR data revealed that the Northern Sea Route, also known as the Northeast Passage, and the Northwest Passage were both open simultaneously for the first time since satellite measurements began.

Using another instrument aboard Envisat, the radar altimeter, scientists measured sea ice thickness over the Arctic from 2002 to 2008. Based on these data, they found that sea ice thickness in large parts of the Arctic had declined by as much as 19% in 2007 compared to the previous five winters.

The Arctic is experiencing an increase in shipping, primarily for oil and gas development and tourism, with further i
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Contact: Mariangela D'Acunto
mariangela.dacunto@esa.int
39-069-418-0856
European Space Agency
Source:Eurekalert

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