Project Details


Satellite and sensor monitoring of ice conditions

By Nain Research Centre

Project URL:
Project Twitter: @NG_Research

  • Environment & Sustainability
  • Safety & Security
  • Physical Computing

Joey Angnatok is an Inuit community leader who lives by ice conditions in his native Labrador, Canada. One day he tried to show scientist Rob Briggs a spot where smooth ice – which is safe for travelling – was turning into rough ice – a dangerous condition caused by wind storms that makes ice tough to traverse. When they arrived, Joey couldn’t see it. “I’m telling you it was here,” he told Briggs, but it was no use – fresh snowfall had rendered the spot invisible. 

Luckily, by the time Briggs got back to his office he could see it for himself – the area was photographed by a passing satellite used by a project called SmartICE. It was a perfect example of Inuit knowledge and technology working together to help local populations work with increasingly unpredictable ice conditions as Arctic winters get warmer.

Developed by Canadian universities, the Nunatsiavut and federal governments and private research companies, SmartICE is a monitoring system for ice conditions. Before the ice freezes in November, technicians deploy buoys with anchors into the sea, which then stay in ice as it freezes around them. 

Sensors on each device relay information about ice thickness and snow cover to a central database via satellite, together with satellites images which are then analysed to create thematic maps with categories like rough ice, double ice (when ice freezes over meltwater) and smooth ice.

The maps will be accessible online and through social media, giving people real-time information about routes during the most dangerous times of year when ice freezes and melts. 

The buoys were first deployed this year, and once the programme has been running for a few years, the researchers will be able to expand the system to other parts of the Arctic and release data for analytical studies on climate change. Find out more at:

Image courtesy of Jeff Sandquist

Last updated: 31st of August, 2016

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