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Documenting Arctic sea ice dynamics with Global Fiducials Program imagery

March 10, 2023

For more than 25 years, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has used the remote-sensing capabilities of United States National Imagery Systems (USNIS) to obtain high-resolution electro-optical imagery to monitor Earth’s response to global environmental change. A major focus has been monitoring sea ice behavior in the Arctic Ocean and its marginal seas. In 1997 and 1998, under the direction of the Global Fiducials Program (GFP), USNIS imagery was collected during the Surface Heat Budget of the Arctic Ocean (SHEBA) Project. In 1999, collection of USNIS imagery of six static sea ice sites in the Arctic Ocean and its marginal seas began, and the imagery was archived in the USGS-hosted Global Fiducials Library (GFL). The static sites were imaged through 2014, creating time series of geographically referenced images which scientists have used to study seasonal changes in Arctic ice over the same locations for extended time periods. In early 2009, the Central Intelligence Agency’s MEDEA Program requested that the USGS use USNIS imagery to track movements of sea ice floes during an entire Arctic summer (April through September). The goal was to improve researchers’ understanding of seasonal changes in Arctic sea ice. In order to track and repeatedly capture imagery of the same ice as it drifted across the Arctic Ocean, the USGS developed a methodology and a series of protocols to use data from telemetering drift buoys deployed at locations across the Arctic Ocean by the International Arctic Buoy Programme (IABP) to track the drift of targeted ice masses for periods that exceeded a year. Resulting time series of sea ice imagery, captured while monitoring 38 individual buoys, were archived in the GFL. In 2013 and 2014, in support of the Seasonal Ice Zone Reconnaissance Surveys (SIZRS) Program led by the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, the USGS requested the collection of USNIS imagery of selected sites in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas located at every degree of latitude between 70º and 80º N. along a north-south transect. This was done to track and understand the interplay among the ice, atmosphere, and ocean and what it contributes to the rapid decline in summer ice extent that has occurred in recent years. Under the auspices of the GFP, thousands of sea ice images have been collected. Many of those that pass a quality and cloud-cover screening are archived in the GFL. Of these, more than 1,750 sea ice images have been publicly released, following an editing and processing procedure that produces high-resolution degraded images, known as “literal imagery-derived products” or LIDPs. These LIDPs have been approved for free, unrestricted public distribution and scientific analysis. The LIDPs can be downloaded from the USGS Global Fiducials Library Data Access Portal (USGS GFLDAP) at In addition, nonliteral imagery-derived products (nonliteral IDPs), such as metadata, maps, charts, and graphs, have also been released.

Publication Year 2023
Title Documenting Arctic sea ice dynamics with Global Fiducials Program imagery
DOI 10.3133/ofr20231008
Authors Bruce F. Molnia, Earl M. Wilson
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2023-1008
Index ID ofr20231008
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Civil Applications Center