Snow on Antarctic sea ice plays a key role for sea ice physical processes and complicates retrieval of sea ice thickness using altimetry. Current methods of snow depth retrieval are based on satellite microwave radiometry, which perform best for dry, homogeneous snow packs on level sea ice. We introduce an alternative approach based on in-situ
measurements of total (sea ice plus snow) freeboard and snow depth, which we use to compute snow depth on sea ice from Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) total freeboard observations. We compare ICESat snow depth for early winter and spring of the years 2004 through 2006 with the Advanced Scanning Microwave Radiometer aboard EOS (AMSR-E) snow depth product. We find ICESat snow depths agree more closely with ship-based visual and air-borne snow radar observations than AMSR-E snow depths. We obtain average modal and mean ICESat snow depths, which exceed AMSR-E snow depths by 5–10 cm in winter and 10–15 cm in spring. We observe an increase in ICESat snow depth from winter to spring for most Antarctic regions in accordance with ground-based observations, in contrast to AMSR-E snow depths, which we find to stay constant or to decrease. We suggest satellite laser altimetry as an alternative method to derive snow depth on Antarctic sea ice, which is independent of snow physical properties.
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