Satellite retrieval of mass balance: comparing SAR images with albedo images and in situ mass-balance observations

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We present an analysis of many European Remote-sensing Satellite (ERS) synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images of Vatnajökull, Iceland, by comparing them with Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) images, massbalance observations and modelled firn stratigraphy. Summer SAR and AVHRR images both detect the surface firn line (or the transient snow-line when it lies below the firn line) as a distinct boundary.Winter SAR images of Vatnajökull generally display the late-summer surface firn line, and often also a transition at a higher elevation that possibly reflects a subsurface continuation of the firn line. On some winter images the firn line is not adequately detected, possibly due to a shallow firn pack. We found no differences in backscatter between melting snow and firn, and for most years no differences in reflectance either. For Vatnajökull, equilibrium-line altitude is therefore not a particularly useful estimator of the mean specific mass balance (Bm).Unlike albedo images, SAR images do not display interannual variations of the signal within the accumulation area that are clearly related to Bm. Hence, SAR images of Vatnajökull contain less information about Bm than albedo images. However, for some drainage basins, mean transient snow-line/firn-line altitude during the melting season can be used to infer Bm.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2003

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  • The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.
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