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Remote Sens. 2016, 8(7), 538;

Antarctic Sea-Ice Thickness Retrieval from ICESat: Inter-Comparison of Different Approaches

Integrated Climate Data Center (ICDC), Center for Earth System Research and Sustainability (CEN), University of Hamburg, 20144 Hamburg, Germany
Polar Research Center (PolReC), Maritime Faculty, Istanbul Technical University (ITU), 34940 Istanbul, Turkey
Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Climate Research Center (ACE CRC), University of Tasmania, 7000 Hobart, TAS, Australia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Walt Meier, Mark Tschudi, Xiaofeng Li and Prasad S. Thenkabail
Received: 30 March 2016 / Revised: 31 May 2016 / Accepted: 14 June 2016 / Published: 24 June 2016
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sea Ice Remote Sensing and Analysis)
Full-Text   |   PDF [6723 KB, uploaded 24 June 2016]   |  


Accurate circum-Antarctic sea-ice thickness is urgently required to better understand the different sea-ice cover evolution in both polar regions. Satellite radar and laser altimetry are currently the most promising tools for sea-ice thickness retrieval. We present qualitative inter-comparisons of winter and spring circum-Antarctic sea-ice thickness computed with different approaches from Ice Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) laser altimeter total (sea ice plus snow) freeboard estimates. We find that approach A, which assumes total freeboard equals snow depth, and approach B, which uses empirical linear relationships between freeboard and thickness, provide the lowest sea-ice thickness and the smallest winter-to-spring increase in seasonal average modal and mean sea-ice thickness: A: 0.0 m and 0.04 m, B: 0.17 and 0.16 m, respectively. Approach C uses contemporary snow depth from satellite microwave radiometry, and we derive comparably large sea-ice thickness. Here we observe an unrealistically large winter-to-spring increase in seasonal average modal and mean sea-ice thickness of 0.68 m and 0.65 m, respectively, which we attribute to biases in the snow depth. We present a conceptually new approach D. It assumes that the two-layer system (sea ice, snow) can be represented by one layer. This layer has a modified density, which takes into account the influence of the snow on sea-ice buoyancy. With approach D we obtain thickness values and a winter-to-spring increase in average modal and mean sea-ice thickness of 0.17 m and 0.23 m, respectively, which lay between those of approaches B and C. We discuss retrieval uncertainty, systematic uncertainty sources, and the impact of grid resolution. We find that sea-ice thickness obtained with approaches C and D agrees best with independent sea-ice thickness information—if we take into account the potential bias of in situ and ship-based observations. View Full-Text
Keywords: sea ice; snow satellite remote sensing; Antarctic; laser altimetry; microwave radiometry; inter-comparison sea ice; snow satellite remote sensing; Antarctic; laser altimetry; microwave radiometry; inter-comparison

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Supplementary materials

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    Supplementary (ZIP, 1131 KB)

  • Externally hosted supplementary file 1
    Description: Antarctic sea-ice thickness distribution derived from ICESat total freeboard with the SICCI and the Worby 1-layer approaches for all ICESat measurement periods between February / March 2004 through February / March 2008 as described in the paper. Each data file, which is in netCDF file format, contains latitude and longitude information, sea-ice thickness and its uncertainty, total freeboard and its uncertainty, the number of valid ICESat measurements per grid cell and measurement period, the sea-ice concentration and for the SICCI approach also the snow depth.

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Kern, S.; Ozsoy-Çiçek, B.; Worby, A.P. Antarctic Sea-Ice Thickness Retrieval from ICESat: Inter-Comparison of Different Approaches. Remote Sens. 2016, 8, 538.

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