Microwave emissions at the L-band (1–2 GHz) in Antarctica are characterized by a significant contribution of ice layers at great depth, from hundreds to a thousand meters. Brightness temperatures, thus, could provide the internal temperature of the ice sheet. However, there are two difficulties to overcome in developing an accurate retrieval algorithm. First, it is difficult to know precisely from which depths waves are emanating because the ice-absorption coefficient is uncertain at the L-band, despite several formulations proposed in the literature over the past few decades. Second, emissivity potentially varies in Antarctica due to remnant scattering in firn (or ice), even at the Brewster angle, and despite the low frequency, limiting the accuracy of the estimate of the physical temperature. Here, we present a retrieval method able to disentangle the absorption and emissivity effects from brightness temperature over the whole continent. We exploit the fact that scattering and absorption are controlled by different physical parameters and phenomena that can be considered as statistically independent. This independence provides a constraint to the retrieval method, that is then well-conditioned and solvable. Our results show that (1) the retrieved absorption agrees with the permittivity model proposed by Mätzler et al. (2006), and (2) emissivity shows significant variations, up to 6% over the continent, which are correlated with wind speed and accumulation patterns. A possible cause of this latter point is density heterogeneity and sastrugi buried in the firn. These two results are an important step forward for the accurate retrieval of internal temperature using low-frequency microwave radiometers.
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