China is planning to launch an imaging satellite to monitor Arctic shipping routes, its developers say, as Beijing continues to boost its interests in the polar region. The probe will be used to observe changes in the sea ice, a key indicator of global warming and a contributor to air pollution in China . It will also be the first Chinese satellite to use synthetic aperture radar technology. “The satellite has a global observation capability but will focus on changes in Arctic sea ice,” said Cheng Xiao, dean of the school of geospatial engineering and science at Guangzhou-based Sun Yat-sen University, which is developing the probe. “Compared with similar satellites, it is capable of revisiting most of the Arctic every two days and will be able to observe with a level of accuracy and frequency superior to existing polar satellites,” he was quoted by Xinhua as saying at a seminar last week. Cheng said the designs for the satellite platform and its payloads were almost complete and the launch was expected to happen in 2022. The satellite would be placed in a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 720km (450 miles), allowing it to provide high-quality images of the shipping lanes and the Arctic sea ice condition in near real time, he said. The images collected would be made available to the international research community, said Cheng, who is also leading China’s first polar observation satellite constellation network, which aims to reduce the country’s reliance on data gathered by Western nations. Many countries are keen to exploit development opportunities in the resource-rich but frozen northernmost region of the world. According to the Centre for High North Logistics at Norway’s Nord University Business School, as of Tuesday there had been 62 transits of the Northern Sea Route – a shipping lane between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean – since the start of the year, up from 37 last year. In May, a cargo vessel transited the route to deliver liquefied natural gas from a plant in Yamal in Russia to a terminal in Tangshan in northern China. China is the biggest foreign investor in Russia’s liquefied natural gas developments in the region. As a self-declared “near Arctic state”, China has significantly stepped up its scientific research in the world’s polar regions. Explainer | What is China’s Belt and Road Initiative all about? Meanwhile, Chinese investors, mostly state-owned companies, have become increasingly active in the Arctic under the “Polar Silk Road” element of the Belt and Road Initiative , President Xi Jinping’s flagship plan to boost infrastructure links across Asia, Africa and Europe. China established a free-trade agreement with Iceland in 2013 and is in talks on a similar agreement with Norway. Chinese companies are involved in several high-profile projects in the Arctic region, including a rail tunnel linking the Finnish capital of Helsinki to the Estonian capital Tallinn. But China’s growing presence in the region has raised concerns. Canada announced last month that a national security review had begun of the planned US$165 million takeover by a Chinese firm of a Canadian gold mining company operating in the country’s strategic far north.