Spatiotemporal variability and decadal trends of snowmelt processes on Antarctic sea ice observed by satellite scatterometers

Stefanie.Arndt [ at ]


The timing and intensity of snowmelt processes on sea ice are key drivers determining the seasonal sea-ice energy and mass budgets. In the Arctic, satellite passive microwave and radar observations have revealed a trend towards an earlier snowmelt onset during the last decades, which is an important aspect of Arctic amplification and sea-ice decline. Around Antarctica, snowmelt on perennial ice is weak and very different than in the Arctic, with most snow surviving the summer. Here we compile time series of snowmelt onset dates on seasonal and perennial Antarctic sea ice from 1992 to 2014/15 using active microwave observations from the European Space Agency's (ESA) European Remote Sensing (ERS) 1 and 2 missions (ERS-1 and ERS-2), Quick Scatterometer (QSCAT), and Advanced Scatterometer (ASCAT) radar scatterometers. We define two snowmelt transition stages: a weak backscatter rise, indicating the initial warming and destructive metamorphism of the snowpack (pre-melt), followed by a rapid backscatter rise, indicating the onset of thaw–freeze cycles (snowmelt). Results show large interannual variability, with an average pre-melt onset date of 29 November and melt onset of 10 December, respectively, on perennial ice, without any significant trends over the study period, consistent with the small trends of Antarctic sea-ice extent. There was a latitudinal gradient from early snowmelt onsets in mid-November in the northern Weddell Sea to late (end of December) or even absent snowmelt conditions in the southern Weddell Sea. We show that QSCAT Ku-band-derived (13.4 GHz signal frequency) pre-melt and snowmelt onset dates are earlier by 20 and 18 d, respectively, than ERS and ASCAT C-band-derived (5.6 GHz) dates. This offset has been considered when constructing the time series. Snowmelt onset dates from passive microwave observations (37 GHz) are later by 14 and 6 d than those from the scatterometers, respectively. Based on these characteristic differences between melt onset dates observed by different microwave wavelengths, we developed a conceptual model which illustrates how the seasonal evolution of snow temperature profiles may affect different microwave bands with different penetration depths. These suggest that future multi-frequency active and passive microwave satellite missions could be used to resolve melt processes throughout the vertical snow column of thick snow on perennial Antarctic sea ice.

Item Type
Primary Division
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Peer revision
ISI/Scopus peer-reviewed
Publication Status
Eprint ID
DOI 10.5194/tc-13-1943-2019

Cite as
Arndt, S. and Haas, C. (2019): Spatiotemporal variability and decadal trends of snowmelt processes on Antarctic sea ice observed by satellite scatterometers , The Cryosphere, (13), pp. 1943-1958 . doi: 10.5194/tc-13-1943-2019


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