Articles | Volume 11, issue 1
The Cryosphere, 11, 469–482, 2017
The Cryosphere, 11, 469–482, 2017

Research article 09 Feb 2017

Research article | 09 Feb 2017

Ground-penetrating radar reveals ice thickness and undisturbed englacial layers at Kilimanjaro's Northern Ice Field

Pascal Bohleber1,2,3, Leo Sold4, Douglas R. Hardy5, Margit Schwikowski6, Patrick Klenk1,a, Andrea Fischer3, Pascal Sirguey8, Nicolas J. Cullen9, Mariusz Potocki2,7, Helene Hoffmann1, and Paul Mayewski2 Pascal Bohleber et al.
  • 1Institute of Environmental Physics, Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany
  • 2Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, Orono, ME, USA
  • 3Institute for Interdisciplinary Mountain Research, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Innsbruck, Austria
  • 4Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland
  • 5Climate System Research Center and Department of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, USA
  • 6Paul Scherrer Institute, Villigen, Switzerland
  • 7School of Earth and Climate Sciences, University of Maine, Orono, ME, USA
  • 8National School of Surveying, University of Otago, New Zealand
  • 9Department of Geography, University of Otago, New Zealand
  • anow at: German Aerospace Center (DLR) Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany

Abstract. Although its Holocene glacier history is still subject to debate, the ongoing iconic decline of Kilimanjaro's largest remaining ice body, the Northern Ice Field (NIF), has been documented extensively based on surface and photogrammetric measurements. The study presented here adds, for the first time, ground-penetrating radar (GPR) data at centre frequencies of 100 and 200 MHz to investigate bed topography, ice thickness and internal stratigraphy at NIF. The direct comparison of the GPR signal to the visible glacier stratigraphy at NIF's vertical walls is used to validate ice thickness and reveals that the major internal reflections seen by GPR can be associated with dust layers. Internal reflections can be traced consistently within our 200 MHz profiles, indicating an uninterrupted, spatially coherent internal layering within NIF's central flat area. We show that, at least for the upper 30 m, it is possible to follow isochrone layers between two former NIF ice core drilling sites and a sampling site on NIF's vertical wall. As a result, these isochrone layers provide constraints for future attempts at linking age–depth information obtained from multiple locations at NIF. The GPR profiles reveal an ice thickness ranging between (6.1 ± 0.5) and (53.5 ± 1.0) m. Combining these data with a very high resolution digital elevation model we spatially extrapolate ice thickness and give an estimate of the total ice volume remaining at NIF's southern portion as (12.0 ± 0.3) × 106 m3.

Short summary
Our study is the first to use ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to investigate ice thickness and internal layering at Kilimanjaro’s largest ice body, the Northern Ice Field (NIF). For monitoring the ongoing ice loss, our ice thickness soundings allowed us to estimate the total ice volume remaining at NIF's southern portion. Englacial GPR reflections indicate undisturbed layers within NIF's center and provide a first link between age information obtained from ice coring and vertical wall sampling.