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An ultra-wideband, microwave radar for measuring snow thickness on sea ice and mapping near-surface internal layers in polar firn

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Abstract:

Sea ice is generally covered with snow, which can vary in thickness from a few centimeters to >1 m. Snow cover acts as a thermal insulator modulating the heat exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere, and it impacts sea-ice growth rates and overall thickness, a key indicator of climate change in polar regions. Snow depth is required to estimate sea-ice thickness using freeboard measurements made with satellite altimeters. The snow cover also acts as a mechanical load that depresses ice freeboard (snow and ice above sea level). Freeboard depression can result in flooding of the snow/ice interface and the formation of a thick slush layer, particularly in the Antarctic sea-ice cover. The Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) has developed an ultra-wideband, microwave radar capable of operation on long-endurance aircraft to characterize the thickness of snow over sea ice. The low-power, 100 mW signal is swept from 2 to 8 GHz allowing the air/snow and snow/ice interfaces to be mapped with 5 cm range resolution in snow; this is an improvement over the original system that worked from 2 to 6.5 GHz. From 2009 to 2012, CReSIS successfully operated the radar on the NASA P-3B and DC-8 aircraft to collect data on snow-covered sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic for NASA Operation IceBridge. The radar was found capable of snow depth retrievals ranging from 10 cm to >1 m. We also demonstrated that this radar can be used to map near-surface internal layers in polar firn with fine range resolution. Here we describe the instrument design, characteristics and performance of the radar.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3189/2013JoG12J128

Publication date: April 1, 2013

More about this publication?
  • 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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