ScanEx RDC has summed up the results of the harp seal protection programme in the White Sea launched starting February 28 through March 29, 2009 together with the IFAW and other partners. Space imagery technologies were actively used for the first time for the purpose of this project.
The primary task of satellite-based monitoring was the control of water-borne navigation through the ice fields near the nursery areas of harp seals based on the all-weather radar imagery data. In compacted ice shipping channels remain for a long period of time and can be tracked even after intensive ice compression and drifting.
According to estimates, each unsupervised pass of a ship through ice field, being “maternity houses” for harp seals, kills hundreds of baby-seals. Over the past few years winter time navigation has increased at the White Sea after the construction of oil terminals in Vitino and Archangelsk.
Within the frames of the project aviation and ship reconnaissance data were used to detect spots of the seal where ships navigation must be limited or prohibited at all. Based on these data specialists of Archangelsk Center for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring prepared ice maps indicating seal nursery spots and gave their recommendations for better ships passes. Headquarters of Ice Operations distributed recommended routes to the captains of ice breakers and ships. Satellite radar images were used to assess ice conditions and to exercise water-borne navigation control.
Besides, a mission was set to assess the possibility of detecting popular spots of harp seal herds using highly-detailed optical imagery. Obtained results testify to applicability of such images to verify ice fields nursery spots location data.
During the period of implementation of the harp seal protection project, ScanEx specialists acquired and quickly processed 17 radar images of the White Sea water area delivered by RADARSAT-1 and ENVISAT-1 satellites (spatial resolution of 50-150 m). At the same time reception and processing of SPOT 2/4 and IRS-P6/Р5 middle and high resolution optical data was conducted with average White Sea revisit period of 1-2 days.
Processed and geolocated images were transmitted via the Internet communication links to the Archangelsk Center for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring and the Archangelsk Sea Port Administration. For operational monitoring and archived data visualization ScanEx specialists have developed the geo-service «Kosmosnimki — White Sea», which provided a free access to project data.
The project enabled to test ship ice navigation satellite control methods based on radar imagery and to work out a method of detecting nursery areas based on highly-detailed optical imagery. The experience of water area satellite monitoring project during the breeding period of the White Sea harp seals allowed us to draw the following conclusions.
All-weather radar imagery with the revisit period of 1-2 days ensures correct assessment and forecasts of ice conditions at the White Sea, as well as ship navigation control. Possible “no-imaging” period of up to three days considerably reduces the probability of detecting all factors of ships deviations from the recommended courses. Most informative mode is the daily imaging of the water area. Operational satellite data, submitted to the Headquarters of Ice Operations and onboard the ships will enable captains to select the best routes with due account for actual ice situation and existing recommendations.
A crucial and decisive factor for effective harp seal protection is the timely updating of whelping areas information. To ensure regular data acquisition it is expedient to use VHR data of optical satellites along with aviation and ship-mounted survey instruments.