Articles | Volume 9, issue 1
Research article
06 Jan 2015
Research article |  | 06 Jan 2015

The impact of snow depth, snow density and ice density on sea ice thickness retrieval from satellite radar altimetry: results from the ESA-CCI Sea Ice ECV Project Round Robin Exercise

S. Kern, K. Khvorostovsky, H. Skourup, E. Rinne, Z. S. Parsakhoo, V. Djepa, P. Wadhams, and S. Sandven

Abstract. We assess different methods and input parameters, namely snow depth, snow density and ice density, used in freeboard-to-thickness conversion of Arctic sea ice. This conversion is an important part of sea ice thickness retrieval from spaceborne altimetry. A data base is created comprising sea ice freeboard derived from satellite radar altimetry between 1993 and 2012 and co-locate observations of total (sea ice + snow) and sea ice freeboard from the Operation Ice Bridge (OIB) and CryoSat Validation Experiment (CryoVEx) airborne campaigns, of sea ice draft from moored and submarine upward looking sonar (ULS), and of snow depth from OIB campaigns, Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) and the Warren climatology (Warren et al., 1999). We compare the different data sets in spatiotemporal scales where satellite radar altimetry yields meaningful results. An inter-comparison of the snow depth data sets emphasizes the limited usefulness of Warren climatology snow depth for freeboard-to-thickness conversion under current Arctic Ocean conditions reported in other studies. We test different freeboard-to-thickness and freeboard-to-draft conversion approaches. The mean observed ULS sea ice draft agrees with the mean sea ice draft derived from radar altimetry within the uncertainty bounds of the data sets involved. However, none of the approaches are able to reproduce the seasonal cycle in sea ice draft observed by moored ULS. A sensitivity analysis of the freeboard-to-thickness conversion suggests that sea ice density is as important as snow depth.

Short summary
Snow depth and ice density are equally important parameters for sea ice thickness retrieval from radar altimetry of Arctic sea ice. Development of a new snow depth data set is mandatory as the Warren snow depth climatology does not represent the actual snow depth distribution. An optimal choice of ice density can be realized by including ice type and degree of deformation. Retrieval and validation enhancement requires more contemporary ice freeboard, thickness, and density and snow depth data.