Towards remote sensing of Arctic ice roads and associated human activities using SUOMI NPP night light images

Friday, 19 December 2014
Mia Bennett1, Laurence C Smith1 and Scott R Stephenson2, (1)University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, United States, (2)University of Connecticut, Groton, CT, United States
Ice roads are often the only cost-effective means of transporting goods and supplies to communities, mines, and other sites in remote parts of the Arctic. Yet, there is no global dataset for Arctic ice roads. However, remotely sensed images from the SUOMI NPP day/night band (DNB) of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) may allow for the construction of such a dataset. The DNB’s high sensitivity to low-level light suggests that while it is not feasible to view ice roads at night per se, other prominent features associated with ice roads can serve as proxies. Using a time series of images taken in winter 2012, 2013, and 2014, SUOMI NPP images are compared with Landsat 8 images and an existing map of the Tibbitt to Contwoyto ice road in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, Canada. First results reveal that while the ice road’s exact path cannot be discerned, key points of human activity along the way can be made out. This bodes well for future applications of DNB imagery to detect ice roads in places like the Russian Federation, for which there is a dearth of publicly available maps. Knowing the location of ice roads is important for two reasons. First, these data can signal sites of natural resource extraction in places for which information is not widely disseminated, such as in the Russian Far East. Second, new geospatial datasets for ice roads can be combined with models assessing impacts of climate change on circumpolar land accessibility (Stephenson et al. 2011) in order to understand where the structural integrity of ice roads may be at risk. As warming temperatures threaten to shorten the season for ice roads, communities and mines alike will need to prepare for changes to their transportation infrastructure, made out of the changing landscape itself.