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Problems with the retrieval of glacier net surface balance from SAR imagery

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There are relatively few comparisons between synthetic aperture radar (SAR) observations and glacier mass-balance measurements. More typically, SAR has been deployed to identify changes in the end-of-summer snowline and other facies boundaries. In this paper, we analyze the geophysical processes affecting SAR amplitude data over two Arctic glacier systems in northern Scandinavia to assess the potential of SAR observations for the retrieval of surface balance parameters. Using a backscatter model and in situ data, we identify the controls on SAR imagery in terms of mass-balance measurement and discuss the glaciological parameters which can reasonably be derived from multi-temporal SAR data. Our results show that amplitude SAR imagery, in the absence of in situ measurements, is not capable of providing meaningful mass-balance data. We show that backscatter from temperate glaciers is affected primarily by snow grain-size and density, and therefore processes such as firnification or depth-hoar formation can complicate the analysis of imagery. We conclude that SAR imagery over temperate glaciers can provide valuable proxy information but not direct mass-balance terms.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2005-08-01

More about this publication?
  • 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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