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Sea Ice Characteristics and Ice Seal Behavior: New Results From Unmanned Aircraft Data


In spring 2009, NOAA together with U. Colorado and U. Alaska embarked on a campaign to measure sea ice, ocean and ice seals in the Bering Sea. The effort is the first attempt to use unmanned aircraft to monitor ice, water and seals in remote areas without putting human pilots at risk. The analysis of the data collected on that mission will be presented for the first time. Innovative techniques to characterize sea ice, including edge-to-area calculations, ice size and fractional ice cover were developed to characterize the physical environment. New image recognition techniques were used to automate the identification of seals in the 27,000 images that were collected. The results show that the seals have distinct preference for specfic types of ice, demonstrating that ice extent will not be the only factor affecting seal populations. Combining these results with forecasts of future ice characteristics--not just future ice amounts--will allow for predictions of impacts of changing and disappearing ice types on seal populations. The systematic analyses of ice characteristics will allow more refined tracking of how ice is changing, perhaps improving forecasts of seasonal ice amounts in the future. This image was taken from an unmanned aircraft in 2009. It shows both the ice characteristics and an ice seal, if your eyes are good enough to find it. over 27,000 images similar to this one were analyzed to better understand the preferencs that seals show for specific types of ice.

Article / Publication Data
Available Metadata
Fiscal Year
Published On
December 01, 2010
Submitted On
March 15, 2021


Not available


Authors who have authored or contributed to this publication.

  • Elizabeth (Betsy) C. Weatherhead - Not Positioned Gsl
    Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder
    NOAA/Global Systems Laboratory