How It Works

The icebergs you see on IcebergFinder.com come from two sources: visual sightings from our on-the-ground ambassadors and satellite detections from Canadian Space Agency technology.

Ambassador Program

The IcebergFinder.com ambassadors are a team of berg-spotters made up of Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism staff and tourism operators. The province's Visitor Information Centres lead the team by making daily calls across the province to locate and plot icebergs on IcebergFinder.com. If you'd like to join the ambassador team, please email us. If you'd like to report an iceberg or inaccuracy, or you want to share your own iceberg photos or videos, please visit the Report a Berg page.

Icebergs move and melt, so before you travel, be sure to confirm your iceberg's location with a nearby Visitor Information Centre or tourism operator.

Satellite Technology

Some of the icebergs you see on this website were spotted from space!

Figure 1. RADARSAT-2 over Newfoundland and Labrador (image courtesy of the Canadian Space Agency)

Figure 1. RADARSAT-2 over Newfoundland and Labrador (image courtesy of the Canadian Space Agency)

We do this using a piece of technology called a satellite-based synthetic aperture radar (SAR). RADARSAT-2 (launched 2007- see Figure 1) was developed in Canada, and we use its high-resolution data to detect icebergs.

Overview

Figure 2. Example of coverage across Newfoundland and Labrador.

Figure 2. Example of coverage across Newfoundland and Labrador.

The SAR systems used to detect icebergs offshore Newfoundland and Labrador are housed on satellites some 800 kilometers above the Earth. Orbiting 14 times a day, satellite SAR captures images of the Earth's surface at a given location, at a given instant in time: it operates at a frequency that "sees" through darkness, rain, cloud and even fog - which comes in handy off our coast! We analyze these "snapshots" to find icebergs along the coast from Battle Harbour to Bonavista (see Figure 2).

RADARSAT Satellites and Data: How the technology works

Figure 3. The satellite can see more than just icebergs.

Figure 3. The satellite can see more than just icebergs.

Everyone has seen radar blips from a ship or aircraft radar on TV or in a movie. Satellite radar works in much the same way. It bounces a signal off an object and records the echo then the captured data is translated into an image. A target will appear as a bright spot because it reflects more radar energy than its surroundings, but strong echoes can come from anything solid - land, islands, ships and sea ice, as well as icebergs (see Figure 3).

RADARSAT-2 data can be combined (see Figure 4) to make it easier to separate between land (white), sea ice (purple) and icebergs (yellow). The biggest challenge is in separating ships from icebergs.

Figure 4. Icebergs, sea ice and land look different in RADARSAT-2 images.

Figure 4. Icebergs, sea ice and land look different in RADARSAT-2 images.

How we do tell the difference between ships and icebergs?

When the radar detects a target, it can't tell an iceberg from a ship or any other solid object. We have to analyze the image for certain characteristics - shape, size and brightness - to find that out.

The radar echo of ships and oil platforms, for example, is so strong that it casts a bright "halo" around the target, making it look like a star. Iceberg targets look duller, but can still be seen with the radar (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. Icebergs appear different than ships and oil platforms.

Figure 5. Icebergs appear different than ships and oil platforms.

Who else is interested in finding icebergs?

Figure 6. Area monitored by satellite for shipping and offshore oil development.

Figure 6. Area monitored by satellite for shipping and offshore oil development.

People visit Newfoundland and Labrador from all over the world just to see icebergs. But icebergs are not a tourist attraction for everyone: they can pass close to shipping lanes, fishing grounds and oil platforms.

To safeguard the shipping lanes between Europe and North America, the International Ice Patrol (IIP), established after the Titanic tragedy, uses satellite and aerial surveillance to spot icebergs and advise vessels of areas to avoid.

Oil companies also use satellite data and aerial surveillance, in addition to their onboard radars, to spot icebergs and determine if they could pose a hazard. In frontier areas, such as Greenland, satellite monitoring is used even more.

Satellite data provided by...

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