Topic 3c - Ice and icebergs

The way icebergs move is very complicated, so predicting where they might be is challenging. Thanks to satellites, we are able to detect them and provide risk maps for boats and navigation.

Icebergs can be detected by radar altimetry, the radar wave coming back earlier when bouncing off an iceberg. A second sight is then often made using SAR imagery, where surface roughness shows the icebergs in the image.

Human analysts then pick out the patterns and interpret the signal of altimetry. With the radar image satellite data they are able to qualify whether the spots are icebergs, boats or something else.

Data on icebergs is used in round-the-world sail races like the “Vendée Globe”, with a major impact on skippers’ safety, as areas with icebergs are deemed forbidden by the race organisation.

Featured Educators:

  • Sophie Besnard

Explore the data

EUMETSAT Oceans MOOC Data Viewer

View featured satellites on the satellite tracking app

Don’t forget you can download the video and transcript with the links on the right.


Jason-3 over Earth

Artist concept of Jason-3

Coverage of Altimetry

Example coverage near Cape Horn on 10 days :
Jason-2 in red Jason-1 in purple Envisat in yellow (width of tracks ~ 5km)

Drift Model

A drift model which stimulates the movement and melting of icebergs.

Ibiza altimetry cover

5km swath coverage over Ibiza of Jason-1 and 2, and Envisat

Ice analysis

Ice analysis conducted by CLS for a sailing race. Altimetry techniques were used to draft a first exclusion zone, and SAR imagery to target the areas identified as potentially dangerous and scan them thoroughly. The brown and red squares are potential icy areas; the green and blue stars are detected icebergs

Le port de Saint-Denis d’Oléron, France altimetry coverage

5km swath coverage over Le port de Saint-Denis d’Oléron, France of Jason-1 and 2, and Envisat

SAR image King Edward Point, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands

A Synthetic Aperture Radar image of King Edward Point, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, a research point of the British Antarctic Survey.

ESA’s Envisat

ESA’s Envisat environmental satellite


Artist’s impression of Envisat

First tracks of icebergs around Antarctica

General movement of icebergs around Antarctica during their first years