Canadian Geographic
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The North from Space

Future look/collaborations

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) works in collaboration with several other agencies: 70 percent of its missions are done with NASA, and it is the only non-European member of the European Space Agency (ESA). The ESA collaboration allows for space missions such as the Odin satellite, which was launched by Sweden and carries the Canadian-made OSIRIS instrument, whose primary focus is to monitor the ozone layer. Such partnerships make it possible to share data internationally and foster co-operative solutions to challenges the Arctic region will face as the effects of climate change progress.

The CSA and ESA are also collaborating to find out how Earth-observation data from remote-sensing satellites can be used to help monitor, protect and conserve coastal areas. The MORSE Initiative (so named because “morse” is French for walrus, which lives in very close association with sea ice) aims to make Arctic coastlines more accessible. Earth-observation data can be used to map parts of the coastline and monitor how it changes over time, inform plans for industrial development along the coasts and develop emergency-response plans for either natural or human-made disasters.

Although there are currently no satellites solely dedicated to monitoring weather and communications in the Arctic, the CSA is proposing a mission that would launch two such satellites.

As ice thickness and extent continue to shrink in the Arctic, shipping and industrial activities are expected to increase. Several government agencies are working together to develop emergency-response programs, since many industrial activities planned for the North pose risks to the environment. Search and rescue missions for trapped ships or icebreakers would also rely on satellite information for navigation and communication.

This is where the proposed Polar Communications and Weather (PCW) mission comes in. This mission would launch two satellites that would operate together to gather weather updates in the Arctic at 15-minute intervals. Current satellite capabilities are constrained in that they do not provide high-resolution data on the Arctic and offer updates only at hours-long intervals. The PCW mission, predicted to launch in 2018, would provide the same detail in weather updates for the Arctic as the weather updates currently available around the world.


This piece interprets a satellite image to outline the types of ice formations found in the Northwest Passage, including annual, multi-year, thin and landfast ice.


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Quiz :

In which year was the first map of Arcitc sea-ice thickness unveiled?