Articles | Volume 8, issue 3
Research article
 | Highlight paper
11 Jun 2014
Research article | Highlight paper |  | 11 Jun 2014

The sub-ice platelet layer and its influence on freeboard to thickness conversion of Antarctic sea ice

D. Price, W. Rack, P. J. Langhorne, C. Haas, G. Leonard, and K. Barnsdale

Abstract. This is an investigation to quantify the influence of the sub-ice platelet layer on satellite measurements of total freeboard and their conversion to thickness of Antarctic sea ice. The sub-ice platelet layer forms as a result of the seaward advection of supercooled ice shelf water from beneath ice shelves. This ice shelf water provides an oceanic heat sink promoting the formation of platelet crystals which accumulate at the sea ice–ocean interface. The build-up of this porous layer increases sea ice freeboard, and if not accounted for, leads to overestimates of sea ice thickness from surface elevation measurements. In order to quantify this buoyant effect, the solid fraction of the sub-ice platelet layer must be estimated. An extensive in situ data set measured in 2011 in McMurdo Sound in the southwestern Ross Sea is used to achieve this. We use drill-hole measurements and the hydrostatic equilibrium assumption to estimate a mean value for the solid fraction of this sub-ice platelet layer of 0.16. This is highly dependent upon the uncertainty in sea ice density. We test this value with independent Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) surface elevation data to estimate sea ice thickness. We find that sea ice thickness can be overestimated by up to 19%, with a mean deviation of 12% as a result of the influence of the sub-ice platelet layer. It is concluded that within 100 km of an ice shelf this influence might need to be considered when undertaking sea ice thickness investigations using remote sensing surface elevation measurements.