| The RADARSAT-1 satellite has become an integral tool in tracking icebergs off of the East Coast.
By Kathryn Carlson
1912: Prior to 1912, there was no system to track icebergs
or guard ships against collisions with floating ice. The tragic fate of the "unsinkable" RMS
Titanic, and the loss of more than 1,500 lives, led to demands for an iceberg
observation system. For the remainder of the 1912 ice season, the United States
Navy patrolled the waters of the Grand Banks and detailed the shifting positions
of southerly ice flow.
1913: The International Conference on the Safety of Life at
Sea convened in London, England, in November to develop a more permanent iceberg
1914: Within three months of the conference, the participating
maritime nations agreed to monitor the icebergs on several fronts and the International
Ice Patrol (IIP) was born. The IIP was established with the mandate to collect
data on meteorology and oceanography in order to measure ocean currents, ice
drift, salinity levels, and ocean temperatures.
1921: The IIP published its first annual recordings, allowing
for a year-to-year comparison of iceberg flow.
Early 1930s: Aerial surveillance took flight and charting
systems were developed in order to provide detailed information regarding ocean
currents and the location of icebergs.
1945: Experiments were conducted to determine the effectiveness
of radar detection of floating ice and technological developments were soon underway.
1955: A series of oceanographic observation outposts were
established aboard light stations and lightships. Today, these outposts remain
integral to the collection of data for the purpose of evaluating environmental
behaviours such as global warming.
1964: For the first time, a computer was installed on an oceanographic
ship. This allowed for more rapid evaluations of iceberg-related data.
1970s: Icebreaking ships became equipped with automatic picture
transmission that enabled the ships to receive satellite photographs of ice in
Antarctica. Optical satellite systems were developed but their capabilities were
limited by weather conditions.
1980s: Drifting buoys were determined to be integral for oceanographic
and climate research and were distributed throughout the Antarctic waters. These "drifters" are
equipped with sensors and measure sea temperature as well as ocean currents.
Side-Looking Airborne Radar (SLAR) also became invaluable to iceberg recognizance
operations because of its ability to acquire images regardless of weather conditions.
1995: RADARSAT-1, Canada’s first commercial earth observation
satellite, was launched on Nov. 4. The satellite was developed by the Canadian
Space Agency and provides images of Earth for both scientific and commercial
uses. This satellite system was the first to use Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR)
which transmits microwave energy onto the ocean surface and then records the
2002: The European Space Agency launched ENVISAT, an environmental
satellite equIIPed with Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR). ASAR can detect
changes in surface heights with submillimetre precision.
Today: The Canadian Space Agency is managing the development
of RADARSAT-2, which is scheduled to launch in December 2006. RADARSAT-2 will
use SAR and multipolarization modes and will follow the same orbit path as RADARSAT-1.