Spy Sat Images of Arctic ice declassified

From the “pictures actually do matter” department…NSIDC’s Mark Serreze is thrilled to get them

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Recently declassified high-resolution satellite photos, such as this one from the Canadian Fram Strait, could provide scientists with more detailed information about Arctic sea ice melting.

from Science News

Hundreds of high-resolution satellite photos of the Arctic sea ice taken during the past 10 years should be immediately declassified and released to the scientific research community, the National Research Council reported on July 15. Shortly after, the United States Geological Survey made about a thousand of the images available to the public through the Global Fiducials Library.

“Most people from the scientific community are not aware that these images have been collected,” says Stephanie Pfirman, chair of the NRC committee that wrote the report. “They’ll be very excited to see these results.”

The photos could help scientists study the rapid changes taking place in the Arctic, the committee members say. Current research efforts that might benefit include studies of polar bear habitats, of the movement of ice floes and of the formation and evolution of melt ponds — bodies of water that form on ice sheets and accelerate their melting.

“There are a lot of processes that we still don’t have a good handle on,” such as why Arctic ice is melting faster than models predict it should, says geographer Mark Serreze of the University of Colorado at Boulder. High-resolution satellite imagery is “just the sort of thing we need” to answer these questions, he says.

The satellite project began in the mid-1990s when environmental scientists teamed up with members of the intelligence community to create a program that would see whether “classified assets”, which might include aircraft or satellites, could collect data useful for scientific purposes. Called Medea, the program approved the use of pre-existing satellites to take pictures beginning in 1999 at one-meter resolution of four Arctic sites. Two additional locations were added in 2005. The only catch was that the photographs could not be released until a committee had determined that they were scientifically useful.

h/t to Ric Werme

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36 thoughts on “Spy Sat Images of Arctic ice declassified

  1. Just a thought about potential applications to polar bear studies. This might be just me showing my ignorance, but at 1 meter resolution wouldn’t you do %&$@ing well to spot a white bear in the snow?

  2. Damn, the US Army has discovered where we, Canadian, have hidden our Canadian bacon and maple sirup. We will have to move our stocks again.

  3. Neil Shearing (22:55:20) :
    to AlexB… “include studies of polar bear habitats”. Habitats, not habits. 🙂

    At 1 meter resolution you might see more details of those habits than you wanted to.

  4. One can only hope that NSIDC will use this treasure trove to increase their understanding of what’s happening to the Arctic ice, rather than sift through the images to find confirmation in support of a belief they may already hold.

  5. AlexB (22:49:30) :
    Just a thought about potential applications to polar bear studies. This might be just me showing my ignorance, but at 1 meter resolution wouldn’t you do %&$@ing well to spot a white bear in the snow?
    That was my first thought too. Maybe they are looking for the drowning ones…

  6. Photos over 10 years hardly establish a climate trend.
    You get regions that experience very warm anomalies for a few years, and then get real cold again. One has to look at the entire arctic and Antarctic as a whole.

  7. This is fantastic news. Now if we can get the subs to release temperature data, folks could start fitting together pieces of a very complex puzzle.
    JimB

  8. 1 metre resolution will be sufficent to count Polar Bears!
    One would assume that there are images of polar regions taken by military satellites dating back to the 1960s. The earlier ones won’t be such high resolution, but they should be sufficient to show changes in ice extent.

  9. “There are a lot of processes that we still don’t have a good handle on,” such as why Arctic ice is melting faster than models predict it should, says geographer Mark Serreze
    Strange language reveals a strange mindset.
    I would be saying something like “improve our models” or “build some decent models” or “improve our understanding – which could lead to building some decent models”
    I’m wary of the word “model” now. If we say that water will boil at 100 degrees C – is this a model ? Or in my own field of civil engineering if we say a beam will deflect by 3mm under a certain load – is this a model ? We used to call them calculations.

  10. Sat images provide a wealth of information and a lot of opportunity for scientific research. But also for spin and manipulation, as any picture nowadays.
    A lot is solved if every sat image used in publications, carries the resolution, the date and the geographic position to it.
    Otherwise we could be flushed with horror stories of the arctic in mid winter documented with images from the summer melt.
    In the mean time, the general public has become indifferent for alarmism.
    AGW and Climate Change score the lowest ratings in the poles and the numbers are sinking fast, not onlu in the USA, but also in Canada, Australia and in Europe.
    People have lost trust in Government and know when they are conned.
    Opinion today is highly influenced by the internet with blogs like this and mother nature demonstrating the opposite of what the warmists claim.
    If the US Senate makes the right decision, Copenhagen will fail and the doctrine will collapse.

  11. I’d like to see the cloud cover over the area of the 1999 Gakkel Ridge volcano to see if it represents the vapor cloud over open water or warmed ice or whether it is ordinary clouds. Those images may be in this bunch of photos. Pictures of it do exist, that’s why I know the area was obscured by clouds. A researcher with access to the photos said so last year, but was not curious enough to analyze the clouds themselves. It was someone who wanted to pooh-pooh the suggestion that the volcano contributed to ice melting.
    The reconstruction of 30 years of ice flow in the Arctic at DotEarth shows an area of open ice appearing over the area of the volcano.
    ==============================================

  12. http://weather.unisys.com/surface/sst_anom.html
    Looking at SST anomalies, there is a concentric pool of warmth southeast of Wrangel Island in the Chukchi Sea. Given the fact that we know that more than one volcano in the Aleutians and on the Russian side of the far northern Pacific are quite active at present, it is at least tempting to investigate underwater vulcanism near the warm bull’s-eye.
    Glancing at the anomaly map again, another spot where such activity seems possible is between Iceland and Greenland.
    Can underwater vulcanism generate sufficient heat to assist in the annual melting of sea ice? We don’t know.
    One more reason that the science is not in, although some scientists have explored the possible connection.
    http://www.livescience.com/environment/080627-sea-volcanoes.html

  13. Hey you can watch your TV, Discovery Channel “Most Dangerous Catch” and see how fast the ice is spreading south.
    Watch ‘Ice Road Truckers’ to see how ‘bad cold’ it’s getting in the Arctic areas of planet earth.
    Getting cold fast … The daily trends tell the climate, right? Or did I miss something in math about the earth being 4.5 billion years old — Wonder what that works out to be in days?
    Do we have any sat photos of the PETM era?
    I wonder why they call it tundra? And not just peat bogs like we do in Florida? And where did the peat come from that far north — Lots of questions few real answers.
    Most scientists would say — In the case of AGW, the GCMs and their theory predicts that there should be a measurable hotspot in the upper troposphere. Observations from satellites and weather balloons have been made, and no hotspot has been found. In a less politicized field, this would have been the end of it. Need new theory.

  14. Mark Serreze seems excited by the prospect of putting his and others’ confirmation biases to work. Science with a mission isn’t science at all.

  15. Here’s a prediction: as long as it looks like the studies will support the Global Warming/Climate Change now! agenda, this will be well funded and well publicized.
    As soon as the results begin to contradict the “consensus”, however – watch for all the interest and all the funding to vanish overnight.
    None of this is about science anymore.

  16. “One can only hope that NSIDC will use this treasure trove to increase their understanding of what’s happening to the Arctic ice”
    ——————-
    @ Leon Brozyna
    With uber-climate-hysteric Serreze now promoted director of NSIDC (effective next august), don’t hope anymore.

  17. From my experience with similar images, the issue will be coverage rather than resolution (which is likely re-sampled at lower resolution from the original).

  18. 1 meter resolution isn’t enough for polar bears. A stretched-out bear might be two pixels long and would have to be on a contrasting surface. You might see a white spot in the water, but you have to distinguish that from a small piece of ice. If polar bears swam in formation you might be able to spot that pattern. Individual bears in water or ice would be quite hard to identify.
    With one exception: A bear next to a smooth area of ice with the sun on the other side low in the sky might cast a huge shadow. Because smooth surfaces and low sun are often present, that situation will happen more often than in other locations.

  19. “Jack Hughes:
    I’m wary of the word “model” now. If we say that water will boil at 100 degrees C – is this a model ?”
    That is not a model, but the original definition of 100°C.
    (It depends on air pressure, of course.)
    Today 100°C is defined as 373.15K.
    If you calculate the boiling point of water at altitude, then the calculation is based upon models (boiling point vs air pressure, air pressure vs altitude).

  20. Melt ponds accelerate melting? I’d love to see the proof of that. Of course, no mention of melt ponds being counted as open water by the IR Boys.

  21. This may have activated the law of unintended consequences-I’ll bet if this does not support the Fed Warmist position,-we will hear not a peep from this…

  22. Death spiral caught on spy sat! YTDAW.
    If the sats are so marvelous, why don’t the GW modelers trust sat temp data instead of tarmac-barbeque ground stations on steroids?

  23. How come you can view satellite images on Google earth and see details right down to shrubs, cars, chimney pots etc, but these ‘high resolution’ images can’t even show a polar bear, unless there are 2 swimming together?

  24. @ James (12:01:12) said:
    “Is that a submarine pushing up through the ice in the photo?”
    I think it’s the shadow cast by some clouds, if you look at it carefully.

  25. Now we can see if the Catlin Expedition really did make it as far as they said.
    Just trying to be funny here.

  26. “There are a lot of processes that we still don’t have a good handle on,” such as why Arctic ice is melting faster than models predict it should”, says geographer Mark Serreze

    Oh that is easy to explain — the model is faulty!
    The key point to his statement is he does not acknowledge that little detail explicitly. He states it as if the problem is that they do not understand processes (which is true), but ignores the obvious conclusion of that statement.
    When observed reality does not match up with your calculations there is a very good chance it is your calculations that are broken, not the observations.
    Larry

  27. Sunfighter (12:04:57) :
    Why was this stuff classified in the first place? secret ice?

    Classified resource used to gather the info.
    Simply divulging the maximum resolution of the photograph taken, would seriously impact the satellite surveillance operations as it would tell a knowledgeable adversary the limits of our technology, and more importantly might tip them off to a means to spoof the satellites or blind them.
    Since it is a classified means of data collection, everything that comes off that system is by default classified data unless it is specifically reviewed and released or down graded to a lower classification.
    Release of that sort of data would likely involve down sampling the original images to the 1 meter resolution mentioned to obscure the technological capabilities of the satellites.
    That said, a competent observer can get a very good idea of the limiting resolution of the satellite by applying well known physical principles such as the diffraction limit and objective size of the camera and the Dawes’ limit for a perfect lens of that size and altitude.
    http://www.telescope-optics.net/telescope_resolution.htm
    That is one of the reasons the major players in satellite intelligence have very high resolution cameras to take pictures of orbital objects.
    By taking pictures of the other guys satellite, they can make some good educated guesses regarding the technological limits of the observations it can make.
    Even if the other guy can calculate that you can see x resolution, you don’t want to physically confirm that calculation. Releasing the raw images would do that.
    That is why they are probably down sampled to the 1 meter resolution even though most open sources estimate their limiting resolution based on the physical laws, is probably under the size of a base ball. The old “able to read a license plate” statement is one of those open source estimates, that is widely debated, and based on the above physical laws of optics is probably not far off the mark, especially with modern computer image enhancement technology.
    Larry

  28. Hmm, maybe Arctic ice is a quantum enigma, the act of observing it causes it to change to some other state and disappear. If we just stop looking at it and measuring it all will be well. LOL.
    Seriously, Arctic ice being declassified is absurd (not that some of the pictures should not be classified if showing military hardware).
    Alexej Buergin (08:01:28) :
    “If you calculate the boiling point of water at altitude, then the calculation is based upon models (boiling point vs air pressure, air pressure vs altitude).”
    The difference is that these calculations are directly measurable to confirm the accuracy of of the equations (model). No assumptions are needed. They have been tested and verified. Climate models are loaded with assumptions (free parameters) that are not measurable or testable. One mathematical phycisist claimed that given enough free parameters, he can model an elephant that can fly.
    Climate science has created a CO2 that does more than many of us think is possible. Since the models assumptions are not all measurable or testable, there is no proof of this super CO2, and unfortunately only time will offer the disproof needed to debunk this once and for all, but by then the damage of carbon cap and trade/carbon tax may be done.

  29. I wonder if they’ve taken the time to look at the data instead of the photots to see that Artic ice is in a growing trend ?

  30. “Is that a submarine pushing up through the ice in the photo?”
    “I think it’s the shadow cast by some clouds, if you look at it carefully.”
    It’s neither, the arctic is just happy to see you!

  31. hotrod (15:05:05)
    Thanks for the explanation re security Larry.
    Some other Arctic pictures I’ve seen gave me the impession that polar bears had a habit of balancing on ice spikes, bit like an audition for the circus. 🙂

  32. Vincent
    I think Google Earth is supplemented by aerial shots from aeroplanes for inhabited regions. Try zooming down in the middle of nowhere, you will probably find you can see much less.

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