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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  03 Aug 2020

03 Aug 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Implications of surface flooding on airborne thickness measurements of snow on sea ice

Anja Rösel1,a, Sinead Louise Farrell2, Vishnu Nandan3, Jaqueline Richter-Menge4, Gunnar Spreen5,1, Dimitry V. Divine1, Jean-Charles Gallet1, and Sebastian Gerland1 Anja Rösel et al.
  • 1Norwegian Polar Institute, Fram Centre, Tromsø, Norway
  • 2Department of Geographical Sciences, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA
  • 3Centre for Earth Observation Science (CEOS), University of Manitoba, MB, Canada
  • 4University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, USA
  • 5Institute of Environmental Physics, University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany
  • anow at: Remote Sensing Technology Institute, German Aerospace Center (DLR), Wessling, Germany

Abstract. Snow thickness observations from airborne snow radars, such as the NASA’s Operation IceBridge (OIB) mission, have recently been used in altimeter-derived sea ice thickness estimates, as well as for model parameterization. A number of validation studies comparing airborne and in situ snow thickness measurements have been conducted in the western Arctic Ocean, demonstrating the utility of the airborne data. However, there have been no validation studies in the Atlantic sector of the Arctic. Recent observations in this region suggest a significant and predominant shift towards a snow-ice regime, caused by deep snow on thin sea ice. During the Norwegian young sea ICE expedition (N-ICE2015) in the area north of Svalbard, a validation study was conducted on March 19, 2015, during which ground truth data were collected during an OIB overflight. Snow and ice thickness measurements were obtained across a two dimensional (2-D) 400 m × 60 m grid. Additional snow and ice thickness measurements collected in situ from adjacent ice floes helped to place the measurements obtained at the gridded survey field site into a more regional context. Widespread negative freeboards and flooding of the snow pack were observed during the N-ICE2015 expedition, due to the general situation of thick snow on relatively thin sea ice. These conditions caused brine wicking and saturation into the basal snow layers, causing more diffuse scattering and influenced the airborne radar signal to detect the radar main scattering horizon well above the snow/sea ice interface, resulting in a subsequent underestimation of total snow thickness, if only radar-based information is used. The average airborne snow thickness was 0.16 m thinner than that measured in situ at the 2-D survey field. Regional data within 10 km of the 2-D survey field suggested however a smaller deviation between average airborne and in situ snow thickness, a 0.06 m underestimate in snow thickness by the airborne radar, which is close to the resolution limit of the OIB snow radar system. Our results also show a broad snow thickness distribution, indicating a large spatial variability in snow across the region. Differences between the airborne snow radar and in situ measurements fell within the standard deviation of the in situ data (0.15–0.18 m). Our results suggest that, with frequent flooding of the snow-ice interface in specific regions of the Arctic in the future, it may result in an underestimate of snow thickness or an overestimate of ice freeboard, measured from radar altimetry, thereby affecting the accuracy of sea ice thickness estimates.

Anja Rösel et al.

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Anja Rösel et al.

Anja Rösel et al.


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