A new thermal imaging sensor developed by the Canadian Space Agency and a Quebec company will take its first test flight across the Arctic this spring, with the goal of helping scientists better predict severe winter storms.

The CSA is teaming up with the National Optics Institute, a Quebec technological design and development firm, to develop and test a far infrared radiometer (FIRR).

They FIRR will go on test flights across the Arctic for several weeks to detect ice clouds north of the 70th parallel, says Thomas Piekutowski, program manager of CSA's Sun-Earth System Sciences.

The aircraft will be outfitted with various instruments to measure many of the clouds properties. FIRR will measure the way Arctic clouds radiate heat and allow the Earth's surface to radiate heat out to space, he said.

These clouds can create very cold air masses and release a lot of heat to space, says Piekutowski. This activity generates conditions for "severe weather," which Piekutowski explains refers to the same type of "persistent, cold weather events" that hit parts of North American and Europe last year.

These new measurements will help improve weather forecasting abilities by improving the description of the physical processes happening and providing stronger information to make predictions from, he said.

"If we had an instrument like that in operation than those observations on a regular basis could help to keep the weather forecast more accurate," he said.

The technology will be tested again on the ground at Eureka, Nunavut, during the 2015-16 winter season. 

FIRR's small size will allow it to fly on a small satellite, which the researchers eventually hope to do on an upcoming micro-satellite mission.

The Canadian government is investing $650,000 towards this project, Minister of Industry James Moore announced earlier this month.