Sea Ice Remote Sensing—Recent Developments in Methods and Climate Data Sets

Sea ice monitoring by polar orbiting satellites has been developed over more than four decades and is today one of the most well-established applications of space observations. This article gives an overview of data product development from the first sensors to the state-of-the-art regarding retrieval methods, new products and operational data sets serving climate monitoring as well as daily operational services including ice charting and forecasting. Passive microwave data has the longest history and represents the backbone of global ice monitoring with already more than four decades of consistent observations of ice concentration and extent. Time series of passive microwave data is the primary climate data set to document the sea ice decline in the Arctic. Scatterometer data is a valuable supplement to the passive microwave data, in particular to retrieve ice displacement and distinguish between firstyear and multiyear ice. Radar and laser altimeter data has become the main method to estimate sea ice thickness and thereby fill a gap in the observation of sea ice as an essential climate variable. Data on ice thickness allows estimation of ice volume and masses as well as improvement of the ice forecasts. The use of different altimetric frequencies also makes it possible to measure the depth of the snow covering the ice. Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) has become the work horse in operational ice observation on regional scale because high-resolution radar images are delivered year-round in nearly all regions where national ice services produce ice charts. Synthetic Aperture Radar data are also important for sea ice research because the data can be used to observe a number of sea ice processes and phenomena, like ice type development and sea ice dynamics, and thereby contribute to new knowledge about sea ice. The use of sea ice data products in modelling and forecasting services as well as in ice navigation is discussed. Finally, the article describes future plans for new satellites and sensors to be used in sea ice observation.


Polar regions, Sea ice, Climate, Satellite remote sensing, Modelling

Full Text

Publisher's official version
373 Mo
How to cite
Sandven Stein, Spreen Gunnar, Heygster Georg, Girard-Ardhuin Fanny, Farrell Sinéad L., Dierking Wolfgang, Allard Richard A. (2023). Sea Ice Remote Sensing—Recent Developments in Methods and Climate Data Sets. Surveys In Geophysics. 44 (5). 1653-1689.,

Copy this text