Satellites show altering conditions at northern latitudes in the Arctic

Iceye co-founders Pekka Laurila and Rafal Modrzewski concentrated mainly on the Arctic when seeking viable markets for SAR (synthetic aperture radar) data. It was a logical fit for the SAR constellation operator launched in Finland in 2014. Despite the lack of terrestrial infrastructure, the Arctic remains an important market for Iceye eight years later. “The only way to keep track of it is through satellites,” said Modrzewski.

Economic activity is building up in the Arctic as sea ice levels drop to new lows. Meanwhile, the Arctic tundra’s soil is melting, and some flora above it is growing. Companies and academic academics frequently use satellite-based data products to track the changes.

Spire Global, for instance, is creating datasets to aid decision-making as the Arctic region transforms over time, according to Kevin Petty, weather and Earth intelligence’s vice president at Spire.

Spire uses a constellation of over 110 satellites to follow the movement of ships and planes in the region, as well as collect atmospheric moisture, temperature, and pressure data by observing how GPS, as well as other Global Navigation Satellite Systems signals, alter as they go through the atmosphere.

Spire can also give clients data on moisture levels of soil and sea ice by analyzing how the same signals do reflect off the Earth’s surface. With over 200 satellites in polar orbit capturing electro-optical imagery, Planet is casting light on the Arctic.

For PlanetScope, Planet’s daily global Earth imagery, German researchers constructed a deep learning model to identify locations where Arctic permafrost is thawing and producing methane, a strong greenhouse gas. The study, coordinated by the University of Potsdam Institute of Geosciences and the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research both based in Germany, maps small landslides which takes place when permafrost thaws rapidly.

“We’re starting to see a lot more of this type of application since we possess so much presence both temporally and spatially over the Arctic,” Tanya Harrison, strategy director of Planet scientific strategy, said.

Sarah Cooley, who is an assistant professor at the University of Oregon, uses Planet imaging and machine learning to monitor changes in thousands of Arctic lakes in locations where permafrost stores carbon.

“Her findings suggest that the combined effect of all these small lakes will be a significant greenhouse gas source going forward,” Harrison said. “Because she is looking at the sub-seasonal scale over a vast area of the Arctic, that research is now only feasible with a dataset such as this.”

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