The European Space Agency (ESA) Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) missions are providing brightness temperature measurements at 1.4 GHz (L-band) for about 10 and 4 years respectively. One of the new areas of geophysical exploitation of L-band radiometry is on thin (i.e., less than 1 m) Sea Ice Thickness (SIT), for which theoretical and empirical retrieval methods have been proposed. However, a comprehensive validation of SIT products has been hindered by the lack of suitable ground truth. The in-situ SIT datasets most commonly used for validation are affected by one important limitation: They are available mainly during late winter and spring months, when sea ice is fully developed and the thickness probability density function is wider than for autumn ice and less representative at the satellite spatial resolution. Using Upward Looking Sonar (ULS) data from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), acquired all year round, permits overcoming the mentioned limitation, thus improving the characterization of the L-band brightness temperature response to changes in thin SIT. State-of-the-art satellite SIT products and the Cumulative Freezing Degree Days (CFDD) model are verified against the ULS ground truth. The results show that the L-band SIT can be meaningfully retrieved up to 0.6 m, although the signal starts to saturate at 0.3 m. In contrast, despite the simplicity of the CFDD model, its predicted SIT values correlate very well with the ULS in-situ data during the sea ice growth season. The comparison between the CFDD SIT and the current L-band SIT products shows that both the sea ice concentration and the season are fundamental factors influencing the quality of the thickness retrieval from L-band satellites.
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