Borehole optical stratigraphy (BOS) is a borehole video system and processing routine for investigating polar firn. BOS records brightness variations in the firn and is effective at identifying stratigraphic markers. BOS brightness logs have been used to count annual layers and measure vertical strain, even though a specific cause of the brightness variations has not been determined. Here we combine two models of light transport to examine potential errors with BOS and identify improvements which will allow the system to estimate optical grain size. We use a Monte Carlo radiative transfer model to estimate the influence of firn microstructure variations on borehole reflectance. We then use a ray-tracing algorithm to model the multiple reflections within the borehole that cause measured brightness variations. Multiple reflections cause the brightness measured at a point on the borehole wall to not necessarily be equal to the local wall reflectance. The ray tracing further shows that wall imperfections or variations in the camera position can produce brightness variations that are unrelated to changes in firn properties. Smooth walls and good stabilization of the camera help ensure that brightness variations result from variations in firn properties, and thus are a measure of firn stratigraphy, rather than artifacts.
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.