Real-time detection of sea ice from drones

Real-time detection of sea ice from drones

May 22, 2017
Senior Research Scientist

Icebergs is a risk to all ships navigating in the high Arctic. Norut has developed a system for real-time detection and monitoring of sea ice, using UAVs.

Icebergs is a risk to all ships navigating in the high Arctic. Even though activities such as tourist cruises and seismic exploration occur at the time of the year when there is a minimum sea-ice extent, this is when icebergs and growlers from glaciers can drift into open waters. Growlers are especially dangerous since they are often too small to be reliably detected by satellites or ship radars, while at the same time large enough to damage ships and equipment.

In the ARCEx project, Norut has developed a system for real-time detection and monitoring of sea ice and growlers, using UAVs. The system consists of the Cryocase groundstation, two UAVs equipped with a long range broadband radio, high resolution electro optical and thermal cameras, and a powerful onboard computer.

The system has been implemented on the Cryowing Scout UAV and tested during a two week field campaign in Kongsfjorden on Svalbard, in the period 24 April - 8 May 2017.

The images captured by the onboard cameras are geocoded and analyzed by the onboard computer in real-time. All ice floes and growlers, larger than 1 square meter, are detected and registered in a database with size, position and shape. The database, including camera images, is continuously synchronized between all assets with access to the system. The images and data can be browsed and interacted with through Norut Live Map (Nlive). Nlive is a system for synchronized visualization and interaction of remote sensing data from manned and unmanned aircrafts. The Nlive client run in a web browser and scales well with regard to bandwidth and number of users.

This video shows how the drones and the Nlive client work together: 

VIDEO: Real-time detection of sea ice and ice bergs using drones 

This research is funded by ARCEx (research centre for Arctic Petroleum Exploration) and the Research Council of Norway. Background maps are provided by the Norwegian Polar Institute.