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SPRI Review 1995: SPRI Review 1995

SPRI Review 1995

Research Overviews

Remote Sensing Group

Dr W.G. Rees, Assistant Director of Research
M. Williams, K.A. Teleki, G.J. Marshall, A.W. Bingham, D.L. Feltham, A.K. Braimoh, H. Wright

The Remote Sensing Group has continued its work of developing methods for the analysis of satellite data and of applying them to the study of polar environments. This work has three main strands: land ice, sea ice and icebergs, and tundra areas.

During the year, Gareth Marshall (Research Student) submitted his PhD dissertation on the use of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data from the ERS-1 satellite in glaciological research, and has now taken up a position at the British Antarctic Survey. I-I Lin (Research Student) was awarded the PhD degree for her thesis on fundamental study of the use of satellite image texture in glaciology, using both SAR and visible-wavelength imagery, and she has been appointed to a post at Singapore National University. The results of both of these projects are now being built upon by Andrew Bingham (Research Student), who is investigating the potential of synergies between different satellite data sources in determining seasonal and long-term changes in the properties of glaciers, ice caps, and ice sheets. A field campaign on Finsterwalderbreen in Svalbard (summer 1995) confirmed and refined the use of SAR and Landsat data in combination to determine the position of the snow line, and work is now in progress to incorporate satellite-derived surface temperature data. Also during the year, Harvey Wright (MPhil Student) successfully applied similar methods to a study of an Alpine glacier.

Work on IPAP (Ice Pilot Applications Project) continued during the year, with the appointment of Kristian Teleki to a research assistantship. IPAP is an international project, funded by the Defence Research Agency (Farnborough), to demonstrate the possibility of producing real-time data on sea ice and iceberg distribution and motion using satellite radar data. During the year, the Remote Sensing Group used data provided by the Danish Meteorological Service to confirm the accuracy of the IPAP system in detecting sea ice and determining its concentration and motion. The system is now being commercialised.

An associated project was also begun during the year, with the appointment of Daniel Feltham to a UK Meteorological Office Gassiot PhD studentship. The aim of this project is to develop a detailed analytical and numerical understanding of the mechanisms of brine drainage and pressure ridge formation in sea ice. Such an understanding, at present lacking, is important in modelling the thermodynamic effects of a sea ice cover, and will ultimately lead to improved meteorological models.

The Remote Sensing Group's new departure into the study of tundra environments was maintained with the continuation of the Kol'skiy Poluostrov project. The aim of this work, which is funded by the UK Department of the Environment through the 'Darwin Initiative,' is to develop methods for studying the impact of industrial pollution on tundra and forest vegetation using satellite methods. The work is performed in collaboration with the Geography Faculty of Moscow State University (led by Professor A.P. Kapitsa) and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre. During the year, the results from the 1994 field season were worked up, and a time-series (1978-92) of satellite images of the area surrounding the Severonikel smelter at at Monchegorsk (Russia), processed to show changes in vegetation health, was produced. Analysis of this time-series has shown a number of unexpected effects, and allowed, for the first time, the long-term effects of pollution over a wide area of tundra to be quantified. These results were confirmed during a field trip in summer 1995, and presented by Dr Rees at a NATO Advanced Research Workshop in Rovaniemi, Finland.

This work is now developing in two directions. Firstly, a geographical extension of the methods developed on the Kol'skiy Poluostrov, into the Taimyr Peninsula, is planned. Dr Rees, Professor Kapitsa, and Meredith Williams (Research Assistant) performed a preliminary investigation of sites near the nickel smelter at Norilsk during the summer, including a 500-kilometre aerial survey. Secondly, the Remote Sensing Group began an investigation, in collaboration with Professor P.J. Williams (Carleton University) into the detectability using satellite data of oil spills on permafrost terrain. A preliminary study by Dr Rees and Ademola Braimoh (MPhil Student) showed that the huge oil spill that occurred in 1994 at Usinsk in the Komi Republic (Russia) could be detected and quantified in SAR images of the area. Professor Williams and Dr Rees obtained funding from the US Army Research Office for a pilot project to study the effects of spilt oil on permafrost, the scope for remote detection of the oil and its effects, and the possibility of remediation.