Articles | Volume 11, issue 2
Research article
23 Mar 2017
Research article |  | 23 Mar 2017

Signature of Arctic first-year ice melt pond fraction in X-band SAR imagery

Ane S. Fors, Dmitry V. Divine, Anthony P. Doulgeris, Angelika H. H. Renner, and Sebastian Gerland

Abstract. In this paper we investigate the potential of melt pond fraction retrieval from X-band polarimetric synthetic aperture radar (SAR) on drifting first-year sea ice. Melt pond fractions retrieved from a helicopter-borne camera system were compared to polarimetric features extracted from four dual-polarimetric X-band SAR scenes, revealing significant relationships. The correlations were strongly dependent on wind speed and SAR incidence angle. Co-polarisation ratio was found to be the most promising SAR feature for melt pond fraction estimation at intermediate wind speeds (6. 2 m s−1), with a Spearman's correlation coefficient of 0. 46. At low wind speeds (0. 6 m s−1), this relation disappeared due to low backscatter from the melt ponds, and backscatter VV-polarisation intensity had the strongest relationship to melt pond fraction with a correlation coefficient of −0. 53. To further investigate these relations, regression fits were made both for the intermediate (R2fit = 0. 21) and low (R2fit = 0. 26) wind case, and the fits were tested on the satellite scenes in the study. The regression fits gave good estimates of mean melt pond fraction for the full satellite scenes, with less than 4 % from a similar statistics derived from analysis of low-altitude imagery captured during helicopter ice-survey flights in the study area. A smoothing window of 51 × 51 pixels gave the best reproduction of the width of the melt pond fraction distribution. A considerable part of the backscatter signal was below the noise floor at SAR incidence angles above  ∼  40°, restricting the information gain from polarimetric features above this threshold. Compared to previous studies in C-band, limitations concerning wind speed and noise floor set stricter constraints on melt pond fraction retrieval in X-band. Despite this, our findings suggest new possibilities in melt pond fraction estimation from X-band SAR, opening for expanded monitoring of melt ponds during melt season in the future.

Short summary
This paper investigates the signature of melt ponds in satellite-borne synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery. A comparison between helicopter-borne images of drifting first-year ice and polarimetric X-band SAR images shows relations between observed melt pond fraction and several polarimetric SAR features. Melt ponds strongly influence the Arctic sea ice energy budget, and the results imply prospective opportunities for expanded monitoring of melt ponds from space.