Fine-scale sea ice conditions are key to our efforts to understand and model climate change. We propose the first deep learning pipeline to extract fine-scale sea ice layers from high-resolution satellite imagery (Worldview-3). Extracting sea ice from imagery is often challenging due to the potentially complex texture from older ice floes (i.e., floating chunks of sea ice) and surrounding slush ice, making ice floes less distinctive from the surrounding water. We propose a pipeline using a U-Net variant with a Resnet encoder to retrieve ice floe pixel masks from very-high-resolution multispectral satellite imagery. Even with a modest-sized hand-labeled training set and the most basic hyperparameter choices, our CNN-based approach attains an out-of-sample F1 score of 0.698–a nearly 60% improvement when compared to a watershed segmentation baseline. We then supplement our training set with a much larger sample of images weak-labeled by a watershed segmentation algorithm. To ensure watershed derived pack-ice masks were a good representation of the underlying images, we created a synthetic version for each weak-labeled image, where areas outside the mask are replaced by open water scenery. Adding our synthetic image dataset, obtained at minimal effort when compared with hand-labeling, further improves the out-of-sample F1 score to 0.734. Finally, we use an ensemble of four test metrics and evaluated after mosaicing outputs for entire scenes to mimic production setting during model selection, reaching an out-of-sample F1 score of 0.753. Our fully-automated pipeline is capable of detecting, monitoring, and segmenting ice floes at a very fine level of detail, and provides a roadmap for other use-cases where partial results can be obtained with threshold-based methods but a context-robust segmentation pipeline is desired.
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