Canadian Geographic
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The North from Space

Weather patterns

With increased activity in the Arctic, scientists are employing satellites to gain a better understanding of weather patterns and climate change. With accessible and consistent communication lines, satellites transmit accurate, up-to-date information that can help northern communities, commercial ships navigating Arctic waters, search and rescue teams and offshore oil platform operators to make more informed decisions. Satellites also provide scientists with a more precise picture of climate change by measuring the velocity at which land ice moves in the ice caps and glaciers that cover approximately 150,000 square kilometres of the Canadian Arctic Islands.

By 2018, the Canadian government plans to commission the world’s first satellites dedicated entirely to the Arctic. The initiative, led by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), proposes to launch two satellites that will provide timely weather forecasting and telecommunications coverage to remote places in the circumpolar world, providing weather updates at 15-minute intervals. Following an elliptical orbit around the poles, the satellites will produce high-resolution images that will show the motion of clouds and storms, allowing meteorologists to accurately track inclement weather patterns that may pose a threat to the northern communities inhabiting these regions and to ships that rely on such information for navigational purposes.

More accurate forecasting of Arctic storms or atmospheric conditions in the polar region will also provide meteorologists with data that can influence downstream forecasts in southern latitudes three to five days in advance. The satellites will also monitor space weather, tracking radiation and solar winds that can shut down and even destroy remote-sensing, communications and navigation satellites.

Satellite measurements of Canadian glaciers are revealing a more precise picture of climate change. Over the past 10 years, scientists at Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) have been measuring the velocity of land ice in the Arctic with the CSA-funded RADARSAT-1 and RADARSAT-2 satellites.

By tracking the movement of a glacier, scientists can use its width and depth to calculate the volume of ice calving off into the ocean over a given period of time. This is vital information for northern communities trying to adapt to changing sea levels.

For years, NRCan scientists have had to travel to the Arctic to record physical measurements of ice caps to calculate calving, a potentially dangerous undertaking. With RADARSAT-2, scientists can now monitor the surface mass balance of ice caps through satellite imaging, a more efficient and far safer exercise.


This piece includes video of the aurora borealis in the Northwest Territories and narration discussing the AuroraMax live broadcast and how it contributes to a greater understanding of the northern lights.


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Quiz :

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