Received: 23 Jun 2009 – Discussion started: 21 Jul 2009
Abstract. Although it is well known that radar waves penetrate into snow and sea ice, the exact mechanisms for radar-altimeter scattering and its link to the depth of the effective scattering surface from sea ice are still unknown. Previously proposed mechanisms linked the snow ice interface, i.e. the dominating scattering horizon, directly with the depth of the effective scattering surface. However, simulations using a multilayer radar scattering model show that the effective scattering surface is affected by snow-cover and ice properties. With the coming Cryosat-2 (planned launch 2009) satellite radar altimeter it is proposed that sea ice thickness can be derived by measuring its freeboard. In this study we evaluate the radar altimeter sea ice thickness retrieval uncertainty in terms of floe buoyancy, radar penetration and ice type distribution using both a scattering model and ''Archimedes' principle''. The effect of the snow cover on the floe buoyancy and the radar penetration and on the ice cover spatial and temporal variability is assessed from field campaign measurements in the Arctic and Antarctic. In addition to these well known uncertainties we use high resolution RADARSAT SAR data to simulate errors due to the variability of the effective scattering surface as a result of the sub-footprint spatial backscatter and elevation distribution sometimes called preferential sampling. In particular in areas where ridges represent a significant part of the ice volume (e.g. the Lincoln Sea) the simulated altimeter thickness estimate is lower than the real average footprint thickness. This means that the errors are large, yet manageable if the relevant quantities are known a priori. A discussion of the radar altimeter ice thickness retrieval uncertainties concludes the paper.
How to cite. Tonboe, R. T., Pedersen, L. T., and Haas, C.: Simulation of the satellite radar altimeter sea ice thickness retrieval uncertainty, The Cryosphere Discuss., 3, 513–559, https://doi.org/10.5194/tcd-3-513-2009, 2009.