SPICES: Space-borne observations for detecting and forecasting sea ice cover extremes

SPICES will develop new and innovative sea ice products that can be used as indicators of climate change in the polar ocean, as well as for securing operations in ice-infested waters.


The main objective of SPICES is to develop new methods to retrieve sea ice parameters from existing (and imminent) satellite sensors to provide enhanced products for polar operators and prediction systems.

Specific objectives of SPICES are:

  1. Establish a dataset of snow and ice measurements.
  2. Improve sea ice classification based on Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), scatterometers and passive microwave (PMW) sensors.
  3. Produce and validate sea ice classification methods from radar altimeter data (RA).
  4. Develop an Optimal Estimation (OE) tool for combining data from many satellite instruments in deriving ice and snow parameters (data fusion).
  5. Improve the detection of thin ice thickness.
  6. Advance methods to produce freeboard and sea ice thickness profiles from radar altimeter (RA) data.
  7. Improved detection of summer sea ice properties.
  8. Multi-sensor derivation of the sea ice thickness distribution.
  9. Exploitation of improved and novel sea ice information for the initialization and evaluation of weekly-to-seasonal probabilistic sea ice forecasting systems.

Project Summary

The main objective of SPICES project is to develop new methods to retrieve sea ice parameters from existing (and imminent) satellite sensors to provide enhanced products for polar operators and prediction systems, specifically addressing extreme and unexpected conditions. To meet this challenge, we have formed a consortium comprised of the best European researchers in sea ice remote sensing, operational sea-ice modelling, seasonal forecasting, and climate research. Our consortium is an expansion of a successful team from the European Space Agency (ESA) Sea Ice Climate Change Initiative (SICCI) project. A SPICES project introduction video is avalable here.

Automatic remote sensing products traditionally provide general information on sea ice conditions such as ice extent and concentration. However, for ice charting, tactical navigation and management of off-shore activities much more important is to know and avoid hazardous sea ice conditions. In general, sea ice hazards are related to sea ice thickness. More often than not polar ships and off-shore platforms are only operating during summer seasons and certain regions. This is because they are designed to resist typical forces of induced by pack ice, but they are not designed to resist the extreme sea ice conditions.

Ongoing climate warming has manifested as shrinking and thinning of pack ice in the Arctic. This is a primary driver for the increasing shipping, oil and gas explorations and mining activities in the Arctic. However, severe sea ice conditions still exist and in consequence many locations are impossible for ship based operations. Moreover, year-to-year variability of sea ice is very large and hazardous multi-year ice (MYI) floes sometimes appear also in typically seasonally ice free regions.

In order to response needs of increase polar activities, we propose to focus on detection of sea ice extremes and automatic production of “sea ice warnings” products. In particular, we aim for a detection of MYI floes in a area composed mostly first-year ice from synthetic aperture radar (SAR), heavily ridged ice regions from SAR, the thickest ice from radar altimeter (RA) thickness profiles, regional anomalies of thick or thin ice via passive microwave (PMW) data, sea ice areas vulnerable for the wave action, detection of early/late melting season and improving capabilities to forecast seasonal sea ice extremes.

The SPICES consortium includes 14 partners from 8 Europen countries, and is coordinated by the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI). NERSC will work with compilation and co-location of IceBridge ices and snow data, sea ice classification using Sentinel-1 SAR and radat altimeer data, and algorithms for sea ice freeboard and thickness from CryoSat-2.

Project Details
Funding Agency: 
European Commission
NERSC Principal Investigator: 
Stein Sandven
Project Deputy Leader at NERSC: 
Torill Hamre
Coordinating Institute: 
Finnish Meteorological Institute
Project Status: