The paper discusses application of active and passive microwave data for assessment of time and space variations of first-year ice cover. The Caspian and Aral seas are chosen as main study areas. The Caspian Sea evolution is primarily climate driven, while for the Aral Sea there is a mix of anthropic and climate factors. We analyze ice cover conditions using a novel method that combines active and passive satellite measurements for ice discrimination. This method uses the synergy of simultaneous data from active (radar altimeter) and passive (radiometer) microwave instruments onboard the TOPEX/Poseidon (T/P) satellite, launched in 1992. The benefits, drawbacks, and potential of ice cover studies using the proposed method are discussed. We analyze in detail how this method is influenced by the difference in footprints of the T/P sensors and by the radiometric properties of ice and snow at different stages of ice cover evolution. In order to link the T/P-derived results to historical observations that end in the mid-1980s, long time series of passive microwave data from SMMR and SSM/I sensors have also been analyzed. Satellite time series of ice cover extent and duration of ice period have been obtained for the Caspian and Aral seas since 1978. A good agreement is obtained between historical and satellite data, with significant spatial and temporal variability of ice conditions. There is a marked decrease of both duration of ice season and ice extent during the winters 1998/1999-2001/2002. These satellite-derived time series of sea ice parameters are very valuable in view of the heterogeneous and mostly unpublished data on ice conditions over the Caspian and Aral seas since the mid-1980s.