Minimize Research and Application News

Satellite data supporting Tor Viking through the Northern Sea Route

12 January 2016

Web Content Image

Tor Viking is a Swedish icebreaker, which needed to get home to Scandinavia from the Pacific during December 2015. The crew choose to take the Northern Sea Route (travelling north of Russia) thereby potentially saving twelve days compared to using the Panama Canal. This time difference can represent a big saving in costs, and the vessel will be ready sooner for new work in the North Sea.

The downside to taking the Northern Sea Route is the extremely challenging ice conditions. However this journey home was aided by satellite imagery and ice information products derived from satellite data that was provided onboard the Tor Viking. This included data acquired from the European Space Agency's Sentinel-1 satellite which was launched in 2014.

"This is the first independent transit done this late in a year by a non-Russian vessel", says Andreas Kjøl at Viking Ice Consultancy. To enable safe and efficient navigation through the ice without any Russian ice breaker support, continuously updated information about the ice conditions has been crucial.

Finding leads within the ice, and avoiding areas of heavy ice is important to save time and ensure a safe journey. This has been enabled by using Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery delivered in Near-Real-Time (NRT). "The new opportunity of finding leads within the ice has in some cases increasing speed from 5 to 12 knots", says Kjøl.

KSAT is one of several partners in a FP7-project, POLAR ICE. During the transit crew onboard Tor Viking and at the Viking Shore Operation Center, has been successfully demonstrating the developed distribution solutions of ice information products aimed for ship users in Arctic waters.

SAR-imagery from several missions was ordered to ensure continuous coverage along the route. "Planning satellite image acquisitions for a "moving target" like this is something new and more challenging for us", says KSAT project manager, Hans Eilif Larsen. We have been providing Sentinel-1, RISAT-1 and RADARSAT-2 imageries to the vessel. "Also having the opportunity ingesting the radar imagery into Transas ECDIS onboard made navigation easier", says Master Mariner/Lead Ice Advisor Erik Almkvist at Viking Supply Ships.

In addition to the SAR imagery, information from a variety of other sources has been provided including: ice charts from National Ice Centres, weather and ice forecasts from providers like AARI, StormGeo and other POLAR ICE partners. All of which helped to ensure a safe and efficient transit through Northern Sea Route.

Nick Walker from eOsphere Limited, who is coordinating the POLAR ICE project said, "There are several companies and agencies making really useful ice information products, but what additionally is needed is the ability to deliver those products efficiently from a single source to where they are needed onboard vessels so they can be visualised in an integrated way. That is what the POLAR ICE project is all about."

The Tor Viking successfully reached Norwegian waters after 10 days within the ice. During the transit both crew, people at Viking Shore Operation Center, KSAT and the wider POLAR ICE project gained a lot of experience to be used for future Arctic operations.

Sentinel-1 SAR scene in navigation tool

Satellite data such as ESA's Sentinel-1 can provide an important Navigation tool to avoid areas with ridges and hummocked ice. This Sentinel-1 SAR scene was cropped, compressed and downloaded from POLAR ICE and ingested into Transas ECDIS system. (Sentinel-1 01/12/2015 19:51 UTC, HH 40 m Res SAR)

Source: eOsphere

Image credit: Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2015) - Sentinel-1 SAR imagery used to plot route

Related Missions: