One hundred and ten years after the RMS Titanic’s tragic collision with an iceberg, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is developing new technology to help the Coast Guard improve maritime safety and navigation in the North Atlantic Ocean. When complete, Project Titanic will fuse satellite-based Synthetic Aperture Radar imagery with ship reporting systems to detect, identify, and report iceberg locations to the maritime community.
“Floating icebergs like the one the Titanic struck on April 15, 1912, pose the same navigational hazards today as they did 110 years ago,” said Kathryn Coulter Mitchell, DHS Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary for Science and Technology. “That disaster prompted seafaring nations on both sides of the Atlantic to form the International Ice Patrol (IIP). To this day, the Coast Guard conducts this vital mission to protect ships, oil rigs, and other maritime assets from succumbing to a similar fate. When complete, the Project Titanic technology will help the IIP provide even more comprehensive and timely maritime safety information on iceberg locations.”
The IIP initially relied on Coast Guard Cutters to survey icebergs but transitioned to aircraft after World War II. Currently, the IIP conducts bi-weekly aircraft missions for nine days at a time during the ice season from February through July of each year. Aerial ice reconnaissance typically costs the Coast Guard more than $10 million annually, and missions are frequently hampered by bad weather and low visibility.
“With S&T developing technology that leverages space-based imagery, the need for costly aerial ice surveillance will be greatly reduced and our capabilities enhanced,” said Coast Guard Cmdr. Marcus Hirschberg, International Ice Patrol. “This technology is immune to dark, overcast conditions and other difficult weather that would normally prevent aircraft operations, and the technology can also monitor difficult-to-reach locations to help us predict how heavy an iceberg season to expect. The increasing availability, timeliness, and improved resolution of commercial Synthetic Aperture Radar systems will revolutionize iceberg surveillance.”
S&T has also developed Synthetic Aperture Radar-based technologies for flood response and other applications.
“Project Titanic is different from other S&T efforts because it uses global satellite access, faster data collection, and enhanced sensor technology,” said Matthew Barger, S&T Maritime Safety and Security Program Manager. “It also harnesses the versatility of commercial Synthetic Aperture Radar imagery and the efficiency of computers. Because of how far the technology can go with surveying a much wider distance and collecting broader data, we can detect icebergs on a larger scale than ever before.”
The Titanic Project is currently in the developmental phase and the Coast Guard IIP is set to test the technology through 2023 with the goal of operational integration.