The polar regions are vast and have a growing significance for the entire globe. They play an important role in regulating and driving the global climate, but are also the regions experiencing the fastest increases in temperature associated with global climate change. Monitoring and understanding these changes is vitally important for everyone, not only the indigenous populations, since these changes will have global effects.
In the coming decades and as global climate change progresses, the world’s polar regions will become significantly more important. As a source of natural resources and current low population density, the Arctic is of increasing interest to politicians and industry. Global interest is fueled by environmental concerns for the delicate ecosystems and by excitement over perceived abundance of oil and gas. Where the Antarctic Treaty currently protects the southern polar regions from some of this attention, nevertheless there are still real pressures to ensure the Antarctic environment remains protected from increasing development.
Observations from space provide unique information which is essential for the successful understanding and management of climate change. The polar regions are remote and hostile environments where efforts to collect required observations and data are limited by very real constraints such as the weather, lack of infrastructure and long periods of polar darkness during the winters. As a consequence satellite platforms provide the only source of consistent, repeatable, regional scale, calibrated, year-round data of the polar regions. The large number of EO satellites observing various aspects of the polar regions provide a comprehensive monitoring system for the maritime and land cryosphere.