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Antarctic sea-ice altimetry: scale and resolution effects on derived ice thickness distribution

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Three ice type regimes at Ice Station Belgica (ISB), during the 2007 International Polar Year SIMBA (Sea Ice Mass Balance in Antarctica) expedition, were characterized and assessed for elevation, snow depth, ice freeboard and thickness. Analyses of the probability distribution functions showed great potential for satellite-based altimetry for estimating ice thickness. In question is the required altimeter sampling density for reasonably accurate estimation of snow surface elevation given inherent spatial averaging. This study assesses an effort to determine the number of laser altimeter 'hits' of the ISB floe, as a representative Antarctic floe of mixed first- and multi-year ice types, for the purpose of statistically recreating the in situ-determined ice-thickness and snow depth distribution based on the fractional coverage of each ice type. Estimates of the fractional coverage and spatial distribution of the ice types, referred to as ice 'towns', for the 5 km2 floe were assessed by in situ mapping and photo-visual documentation. Simulated ICESat altimeter tracks, with spot size ∼70 m and spacing ∼170 m, sampled the floe's towns, generating a buoyancy-derived ice thickness distribution. 115 altimeter hits were required to statistically recreate the regional thickness mean and distribution for a three-town assemblage of mixed first- and multi-year ice, and 85 hits for a two-town assemblage of first-year ice only: equivalent to 19.5 and 14.5 km respectively of continuous altimeter track over a floe region of similar structure. Results have significant implications toward model development of sea-ice sampling performance of the ICESat laser altimeter record as well as maximizing sampling characteristics of satellite/airborne laser and radar altimetry missions for sea-ice thickness.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2011-05-01

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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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