About the Image Composite Explorer

The Image Composite Explorer (ICE) is programmed in Java in order to maximize its utility across computer platforms and popular Web browsers. Unfortunately, not all Web browsers handle Java well. Please review this list of compatible browsers and platforms if you plan to use ICE.

The ICE is a developmental “on ramp” into the world of Earth system science. ICE demonstrates how scientists use multi-spectral data to examine our world. Despite its complexity, we believe that introductory-level remote sensing can be enjoyed by anyone — students and hobbyists alike. So consider this an open invitation to join NASA’s Earth Observatory team as we explore our changing planet. Our goals are to:

  • observe and document changes in the Earth’s lands, oceans, and atmosphere;
  • illustrate the cause-and-effect relationships inherent in certain types of changes within the Earth’s system; and
  • learn about the electromagnetic spectrum and why it is advantageous to use certain wavelengths of radiant energy to observe and measure certain objects.

Using pre-prepared images, ICE can analyze remotely-sensed observations of various Earth features, such as Sea Surface Temperature (SST), cloudiness, or chlorophyll concentrations in the Earth’s oceans. The tool can tell you the exact value of those features at a given place in an image, and help you find out if there is a relationship between two different features, and investigate whether conditions are changing over time. Using ICE, you can plot the results of your analyses using a variety of graphing techniques.

The images used for ICE are produced from “real” satellite remote sensing data. These data are essentially sets of numbers quantifying the radiant energy leaving the Earth, such as green light or thermal radiation. We convert these numbers into image data and save the images in Graphics Interchange Format, or GIF, for user friendliness and Web compatibility. The images download quickly, even through relatively slow Internet connections. Each GIF image appears in 256 shades of gray. The ICE tool equates each particular shade of gray with a specific unit value. So, for instance, in an image displaying sea surface temperature, each shade of gray represents a temperature measurement in degrees Celsius. For ocean chlorophyll concentrations, each shade of gray is given in milligrams per cubic meter, and so forth.

ICE bypasses stumbling blocks inherent in other software tools: (1) it is easy to use and users can quickly learn just by playing; and (2) it does not require users to locate remote sensing data for themselves and then subset and geo-register these image data for analysis.

NASA owns the ICE software. Here, we are publishing the code freely into the public domain so that anyone may use it, download it, host it locally, and/or help NASA refine its functionality. Let us know if you come up with a good idea for a lesson plan, or if you program interesting new functionality. (Programmers should review the ICE Programmer’s Guide.)

So, jump on in to Channel Islands lesson and have fun. Or, if you still wish to know more about this new tool, check out the Teacher’s Guide or the ICE User’s Guide.