Articles | Volume 9, issue 5
Research article
15 Oct 2015
Research article |  | 15 Oct 2015

Lead detection in Arctic sea ice from CryoSat-2: quality assessment, lead area fraction and width distribution

A. Wernecke and L. Kaleschke

Abstract. Leads cover only a small fraction of the Arctic sea ice but they have a dominant effect on the turbulent exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere. A supervised classification of CryoSat-2 measurements is performed by a comparison with visual MODIS scenes. For several parameters thresholds are optimized and tested in order to reproduce this prior classification. The maximum power of the waveform shows the best classification properties amongst them, including the pulse peakiness. The sea surface height is derived and its spread is clearly reduced for a classifier based on the maximum power compared to published ones. Lead area fraction estimates based on CryoSat-2 show a major fracturing event in the Beaufort Sea in 2013. The resulting Arctic-wide lead width distribution follows a power law with an exponent of 2.47 ± 0.04 for the winter seasons from 2011 to 2014, confirming and complementing a regional study based on a high-resolution SPOT image.

Short summary
Leads in Arctic sea ice have a dominant effect on the exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere. Visual MODIS scenes are used to validate and improve the detection of leads from altimeter measurements of the satellite CryoSat-2. The rarely used maximum power of the returning signal shows the best classification properties. Lead area fraction and width distribution estimates based on CryoSat-2 complement other studies and deepen our understanding of lead characteristics.