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Stratigraphic continuity in 400 MHz short-pulse radar profiles of firn in West Antarctica

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We track dated firn horizons within 400 MHz short-pulse radar profiles to find the continuous extent over which they can be used as historical benchmarks to study past accumulation rates in West Antarctica. The 30–40 cm pulse resolution compares with the accumulation rates of most areas. We tracked a particular set that varied from 30 to 90 m in depth over a distance of 600 km. The main limitations to continuity are fading at depth, pinching associated with accumulation rate differences within hills and valleys, and artificial fading caused by stacking along dips. The latter two may be overcome through multi-kilometer distances by matching the relative amplitude and spacing of several close horizons, along with their pulse forms and phases. Modeling of reflections from thin layers suggests that the −37 to −50 dB range of reflectivity and the pulse waveforms we observed are caused by the numerous thin ice layers observed in core stratigraphy. Constructive interference between reflections from these close, high-density layers can explain the maintenance of reflective strength throughout the depth of the firn despite the effects of compaction. The continuity suggests that these layers formed throughout West Antarctica and possibly into East Antarctica as well.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2004

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  • The Annals of Glaciology is a peer-reviewed, thematic journal published 2 to 4 times a year by the International Glaciological Society (IGS). Publication frequency is determined and volume/issue numbers assigned by the IGS Council on a year-to-year basis and with a lead time of 3 to 4 years. The Annals of Glaciology is included in the ISI Science Citation Index from volume 50, number 50 onwards.

    Themes can be on any aspect of the study of snow and ice. Individual members can make a suggestion for a theme for an Annals issue to the Secretary General, who will forward it to the IGS Publications Committee. The IGS Publication Committee will make a recommendation for an individual themed Annals issue, together with a potential Annals Chief Editor for that issue, to IGS Council. The IGS Council will make the decision whether to proceed, taking into account the spread of topics and the overall capacity for publication of pages in Annals.

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