Description: This is the first calibrated, multi-frequency,
multi-polarization spaceborne radar image of the seasonal sea-ice cover in the
Weddell Sea, Antarctica. The multi-channel data provide scientists with details
about the ice pack they cannot see any other way and indicates that the large
expanse of sea-ice is, in fact, comprised of many smaller rounded ice floes,
shown in blue-gray. These data are particularly useful in helping scientists
estimate the thickness of the ice cover which is often extremely difficult to
measure with other remote sensing systems. The extent, and especially thickness,
of the polar ocean's sea-ice cover together have important implications for
global climate by regulating the loss of heat from the ocean to the cold polar
The image was acquired on October 3, 1994, by the Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C/X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) onboard the space shuttle Endeavour. This image is produced by overlaying three channels of radar data in the following colors: red (C- band, HH-polarization), green (L-band HV-polarization), and blue (L-band, HH-polarization). The image is oriented almost east-west with a center location of 58.2 degrees South and 21.6 degrees East. Image dimensions are 45 kilometers by 18 kilometers (28 miles by 11 miles). Most of the ice cover is composed of rounded, undeformed blue-gray floes, about 0.7 meters (2 feet) thick, which are surrounded by a jumble of red-tinged deformed ice pieces which are up to 2 meters (7 feet) thick. The winter cycle of ice growth and deformation often causes this ice cover to split apart, exposing open water or 'leads'. Ice growth within these openings is rapid due to the cold, brisk Antarctic atmosphere. Different stages of new-ice growth can be seen within the linear leads, resulting from continuous opening and closing. The blue lines within the leads are open water areas in new fractures which are roughened by wind. The bright red lines are an intermediate stage of new-ice growth perhaps 5 to 10 centimeters (2 to 4 inches) thick. The more extensive dark zones are covered by a slightly thicker layer of smooth, level ice up to 70 centimeters (28 inches) thick.
Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C and X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) is part of NASA's Mission to Planet Earth. The radars illuminate Earth with microwaves allowing detailed observations at any time, regardless of weather or sunlight conditions. SIR-C/X-SAR uses three microwave wavelengths: L-band (24 cm), C-band (6 cm) and X-band (3 cm). The multi-frequency data will be used by the international scientific community to better understand the global environment and how it is changing. The SIR-C/X-SAR data, complemented by aircraft and ground studies, will give scientists clearer insights into those environmental changes which are caused by nature and those changes which are induced by human activity.
SIR-C was developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. X-SAR was developed by the Dornier and Alenia Spazio companies for the German space agency, Deutsche Agentur fuer Raumfahrtangelegenheiten (DARA), andthe Italian space agency, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI), with the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt fuer Luft und Raumfahrt e.v.(DLR), the major partner in science, operations, and data processing of X-SAR.