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|This Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C/X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar color composite shows a portion of the Weddell Sea, which is adjacent to the continent of Antarctica. The image shows extensive coverage of first-year sea ice mixtures and patches of open water inside the ice margin. The image covers a 100 kilometer by 30 kilometer (62 mile by 18.5 mile) region of the southern ocean, centered at approximately 57 degrees south latitude and 3 degrees east longitude, which was acquired on October 3, 1994. Data used to create this image were obtained using the L-band (horizontally transmitted and vertically received) in red; the L-band (horizontally transmitted and received) in green; and the C-band (horizontally transmitted and received) in blue. |
The sea ice, which appears rust-brown in the image, is composed of loosely packed floes from approximately 1 meter to 2 meters (3 feet to 6.5 feet) thick and ranging from 1 meter to 20 meters (3 feet to 65.5 feet) in diameter. Large patches of open water, shown as turquoise blue, are scattered throughout the area, which is typical for ice margins experiencing off-ice winds. The thin, well-organized lines clearly visible in the ice pack are caused by radar energy reflected by floes riding the crest of ocean swells. The wispy, black features seen throughout the image represent areas where new ice is forming. Sea ice, because it acts as an insulator, reduces the loss of heat between the relatively warm ocean and cold atmosphere. This interaction is an important component of the global climate system. Because of the unique combination of winds, currents and temperatures found in this region, ice can extend many hundreds of kilometers north of Antarctica each winter, which classifies the Weddell Sea as one of nature's greatest ice-making engines. During the formation of sea ice, great quantities of salt are expelled from the frozen water. The salt increases the density of the upper layer of sea water, which then sinks to great depths. Oceanographers believe this process forms most of the oceans' deep water. Sea ice covering all of the southern oceans, including the Weddell Sea, typically reaches its most northerly extent in about September. As periods of daylight become gradually longer in the Southern Hemisphere, ice formation stops and the ice edge retreats southward. By February, most of the sea ice surrounding Antarctica disappears. Imaging radar is extremely useful for studying the polar regions because of the long periods of darkness and extensive cloud cover. The multiple frequencies of the SIR-C/X-SAR instruments allow further study into ways of improving the separation of the various thickness ranges of sea ice, which are vital to understanding the heat balance in the ice, ocean and atmospheric system.
Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C and X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) is part of NASA's Mission to Planet Earth. The radars illuminate Earth with microwaves, allowing detailed observations at any time, regardless of weather or sunlight conditions. SIR-C/X-SAR uses three microwave wavelengths: L-band (24 cm), C-band (6 cm) and X-band (3 cm). The multi-frequency data will be used by the international scientific community to better understand the global environment and how it is changing. The SIR-C/X-SAR data, complemented by aircraft and ground studies, will give scientists clearer insights into those environmental changes which are caused by nature and those changes which are induced by human activity.
SIR-C was developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. X-SAR was developed by the Dornier and Alenia Spazio companies for the German space agency, Deutsche Agentur fuer Raumfahrtangelegenheiten (DARA), and the Italian space agency, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI), with the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt fuer Luft und Raumfahrt e.V.(DLR), the major partner in science, operations and data processing of X-SAR.
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