Mobile phone application using RADARSAT-2 imagery to make communities safer

For northern communities, the ability to move safely over ice is an essential part of culture and livelihood. (Credit: Polar View)

In Canada's isolated northern communities, getting around can be difficult. A new mobile application being piloted in Clyde River, Nunavut, could help make journeys over ice safer, and protect Inuit communities during fishing and hunting expeditions.

The new app, called Safer Travel on Ice, integrates multiple sources of knowledge, including RADARSAT-2 and Sentinel-1 images as well as crowdsourced user feedback.

Supported by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the app is under development by Polar View, an organization that has compiled ice floe-edge information provided by Earth observation satellites for nearly 15 years.

Each day, the app generates an updated map of floe-edge information. This information is especially important in the spring and fall seasons, when ice conditions are prone to rapid change. When a user connects to a network, the app downloads the latest version of the map, letting the user know the location of the floe edge. It can also work offline in areas where bandwidth is an issue once the maps are downloaded.

The mobile application is enhancing the ability of residents to safely travel over river, lake, and sea ice. It represents the next step in integrating many sources of information and making it accessible to those in remote communities.

Accurate, real-time information about ice thickness is important in mitigating safety concerns in Canada's northern communities, whose residents must confront the rapid effects of climate change. (Credit: Polar View)

The Safer Travel on Ice mobile app could also help improve decision making for search and rescue responders in the event of an emergency and enable tour operators to avoid dangerous areas, thereby reducing risk for tourists.

A tool for those most affected by climate change

Northern communities find themselves on the front lines against a shifting climate. The polar landscape warms twice as quickly as other parts of the world, in an effect known as Arctic amplification.

In such a dynamic environment, relying exclusively on traditional knowledge about hunting and fishing routes may be a perilous choice.

In 2013, a stranded group of 31 people, including 16 Inuit hunters, had to be rescued by the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The operation, which could have been catastrophic, also cost taxpayers $2.7 million.

By providing updates about shifting ice conditions right to a user's smartphone, the Safer Travel on Ice application may help prevent such incidents in the future.

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