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Ice sheet survey over Antarctica using satellite altimetry: ERS-2, Envisat, SARAL/AltiKa, the key importance of continuous observations along the same repeat orbit

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From September 2002 to October 2010, the Envisat radar altimeter surveyed Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets on a 35 day repeat orbit, providing a unique data set for ice sheet mass balance studies. Up to 85 repeat cycles are available and the whole Envisat data set may be along-track processed in order to provide height variability and trend with a good spatial resolution for the objectives of ice sheet survey.

Soon, a joint Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales/Indian Space Research Organisation mission, SARAL (Satellite with Argos and AltiKa), with the AltiKa payload on board, will be launched on exactly the same orbit (less than 1 km of the nomimal orbit in the across-track direction). This will allow an extension of previous European Remote Sensing (ERS) satellite, ERS-1 and ERS-2, and Envisat missions of the European Space Agency (ESA), in particular from the point of view of ice altimetry. However, AltiKa operates in the Ka band (36.8 GHz), a higher frequency than the classical Ku band (13.6 GHz), leading to important modifications and potential improvements in the interactions between radar wave and snow-pack.

In this paper, a synthesis is presented of all available information relevant to ice altimetry scientific purposes as derived from the Envisat mission: mean and temporal derivatives of the height − but also of the backscatter and of the two waveform parameters − snow-pack change corrections, across-track surface slope at 1 km scale, etc. The spatial and temporal variability of ice sheet surface elevation is investigated with the help of the high-resolution Envisat along-track observations. We show that at least 50 repeat cycles are needed to reach the required accuracy for the elevation trend. It is thus advocated as potentially highly beneficial for SARAL/AltiKa as a follow-on mission. Moreover, the novel characteristics of SARAL/AltiKa are promising in improving our understanding of snow penetration impact.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: LEGOS, CNRS, Toulouse Cedex, 31400, France 2: LGGE, CNRS, 38041, Grenoble Cedex 9, France

Publication date: July 18, 2014

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