Big Data

Arctic Tracking

Arctic Tracking

Arctic Tracking

UTSA experts help build a database to aid in research of the North Pole



  • UTSA team conceived of the big data project on the Arctic Sea.
  • New project will combine thousands of images taken over years.
  • Effort should let researchers spend more time on the science.

By Milady Nazir |
Originally Posted 1/14/2019 |

It’s called the Arctic CyberInfrastructure and promises to combine the thousands of images that have been taken along the years of the Arctic Ocean into one global database that will help scientists and the world see the physical changes occurring in the region, including ice loss. The hope is that this web-based repository will allow researchers to spend more time analyzing information rather than just collecting and processing data.

“This is to help scientists spend more time doing the science,” says Professor Alberto Mestas-Nuñez, one of two researchers at UTSA working on the on-demand data mining module. “At present time there isn’t a place on the internet that provides all these datasets but also an algorithm that allows to extract the information,” adds Mestas. “Most of the time scientists spend time getting data and preparing it. Typically, it’s about 80% preparing the data and 20% doing the actual science. We want to break that paradigm.”

“We have to harness the data revolution. It’s about learning more in order to navigate the new Arctic.”

The original idea to build ArcCI came from Professor Hongjie Xie, the principal investigator of the project at UTSA and a professor in the university’s Department of Geological Sciences. Although big-data analytics and dashboards are prevalent in many industries, the technology has yet to be applied fully to monitoring the Arctic’s sea ice. “We have to harness the data revolution,” says Xie. “It’s about learning more in order to navigate the new Arctic.”

Xie along with Xin Miao at Missouri State University started working on the project five years ago. Now the National Science Foundation has given the green light in the way of funding to develop the online system, which uses high-resolution imaging either obtained on-site, via satellites, or via airborne monitoring.

The system will allow the scientific community the ability to readily extract detailed information of various ice properties, including submerged ice, ice concentration, melt ponds or ice edge—the boundary between an area of ice and the open sea. The on-demand database will be dynamic and allowed to include new algorithms as well as additional data sets as they become available. Currently, the cloud-based system holds about a terabyte of images, but that number will surely grow. The earliest data set is from 1998 from the Sheba expedition, which conducted 13 flights over the Beaufort Sea. Now, researchers will include close to 1,760 declassified images.

“We will use the power of the image,” says Xie about the large amount of declassified information that will be integrated into ArcCI.