Sentinel — Our eye in the sky monitoring the Larsen C ice shelf

Posted Jun 23, 2017 by Karen Graham
The world has been holding its collective breath, waiting for the Larsen C ice shelf to calve what will be the biggest iceberg on record. But monitoring the progress of the crack in the ice sheet would not be possible without the help of technology.
The SENTINEL-1 mission is the European Radar Observatory for the Copernicus joint initiative of the ...
The SENTINEL-1 mission is the European Radar Observatory for the Copernicus joint initiative of the European Commission (EC) and the European Space Agency (ESA).
For months and months, the world has been kept updated on the ever-growing crack in the Antarctic's Larsen C ice shelf. And while scientists with the UK's Project Midas have been able to monitor with precision the growth of the crack during the Antarctic's summer months by flying over it, during the dead of the Antarctic night, they can still see the crack using eyes in the sky.
Two European Space Agency (ESA) satellites known as Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-1B orbit the Earth as a constellation about 180 degrees apart every six days, Day-in and day-out, sending back data and images that are central to Europe’s Copernicus program.
The European Commission, in partnership with the ESA, created the world's largest single Earth observation program aimed at achieving a continuous imagery and data-driven high-capacity platform that provides day-and-night weather and radar imaging for land, ocean and atmospheric monitoring.
Sentinel-1B lifts off in April 2016.
Sentinel-1B lifts off in April 2016.
Sentinel-1 was launched in April 2014, and Sentinel-1B was launched in April 2016. Both were taken into orbit on a Soyuz rocket from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. The Sentinel-1 also carries a laser to transmit data to the geostationary European Data Relay System for continual data delivery.
Sentinel receives high praise
"The close monitoring of this rift really is a success story for Sentinel-1," Adrian Luckman, a glaciologist at Swansea University, said. Luckman is also part of the Project Midas team, and he reiterates that without the satellite constellation above the Earth, researchers would only have access to low-resolution images or have to pay for data from private companies, reports Live Science.
Sentinel uses something called synthetic aperture radar to see through the clouds and darkness. This makes it very useful in Polar regions and at high altitudes. The same radar has also been used by NASA on space probes to image the surface of cloud-covered Venus.
Monitoring the Larsen C ice shelf is not the only job that Sentinel-1 is doing. With climate change affecting people and environments all over the world, it's crucial that any changes in land masses, ice sheets and weather events be closely monitored for our protection and the information the data will provide going forward.
Image of Venus produced using the same kind of radar being used on the ESA s Sentilel-1.
Image of Venus produced using the same kind of radar being used on the ESA's Sentilel-1.
"Their high-resolution measurements are of significant value for numerous stakeholders beyond just scientists, e.g., shipping industry during the Arctic summer (and) navigation through sea ice," Zack Labe, a Ph.D. student studying the Arctic at the University of California, Irvine, said in an email. "I think this is a key point that we often forget. These remote sensing observations (like from the Sentinels) provide services to many industries on both land and water."