New ESA satellite takes its very first image over Austfonna, Svalbard

Only 2 hours after switching on the radar onboard ESA's newly launched satellite, Sentinel-1B, the very first image came in from over Svalbard, a beautiful image of the Austfonna ice cap and the eastern island of Edgeøya.

Satellite image from over Svalbard

Sentinel-1B's very first image, from over Svalbard: A beautiful image of the Austfonna ice cap and the eastern island of Edgeøya. Photo: ESA (Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data [2016], processed by ESA)

In Arctic surroundings, a male researcher partially covered in snow is sat in a snow pit, operating electronical instruments.

Norwegian scientists visit the Austfonna ice cap annually to perform various measurements that helps the interpretation of the satellite images. Photo: Elisabeth Isaksson / Norwegian Polar Institute

With record speed, ESA published the very first image taken by the Sentinel-1B only 2 days after its launch.

Austfonna has been in the news recently because of the ongoing surge of one of the outlet glaciers, Basin-3. The surge is clearly visible because highly crevassed areas show up as white, almost saturated, areas in the image. Using data from its older twin sister – Sentinel-1A, launched about 2 years ago – researchers at the Norwegian Polar Institute have monitored the surge closely. A previously published video shows the advance of the glacier during the start-up of the surge.

Sentinel-1B is ESA's newest addition to their constellation of satellites already in space. The satellite joins Sentinel-1A in the same orbit, but 180 degrees apart. This means that when both satellites are in operation mode, almost any part of the earth can be observed at 6-day intervals. Both satellites are radar satellites, with the major benefit of being able to operate independently of clouds and daylight: very advantageous for monitoring the polar regions.

It will take a while before the satellite will routinely produce images over Svalbard and other parts of the world, as the Sentinel-1B now undergoes a commissioning phase scheduled to take approximately 4 months.