A range correction for ICESat and its potential impact on ice-sheet mass balance studies
Abstract. We report on a previously undocumented range error in NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) that degrades elevation precision and introduces a small but significant elevation trend over the ICESat mission period. This range error (the Gaussian-Centroid or "G-C" offset) varies on a shot-to-shot basis and exhibits increasing scatter when laser transmit energies fall below 20 mJ. Although the G-C offset is uncorrelated over periods ≤ 1 day, it evolves over the life of each of ICESat's three lasers in a series of ramps and jumps that give rise to spurious elevation trends of −0.92 to −1.90 cm yr−1, depending on the time period considered. Using ICESat data over the Ross and Filchner–Ronne ice shelves we show that (1) the G-C offset introduces significant biases in ice-shelf mass balance estimates, and (2) the mass balance bias can vary between regions because of different temporal samplings of ICESat. We can reproduce the effect of the G-C offset over these two ice shelves by fitting trends to sample-weighted mean G-C offsets for each campaign, suggesting that it may not be necessary to fully repeat earlier ICESat studies to determine the impact of the G-C offset on ice-sheet mass balance estimates.