Multi-sensor airborne observations of freeboard, snow depth, and sea-ice thickness in the Arctic

arttu.jutila [ at ]


Sea-ice thickness is a key factor and indicator in understanding the impact of the global climate change. Deriving basin-wide sea-ice thickness estimates from satellite laser and radar altimetry relies on freeboard measurements. The freeboard-to-thickness conversion in turn requires information of snow mass and the density of the sea-ice layer that have unknown spatio-temporal variabilities and trends directly translating into the uncertainty of decadal sea-ice thickness data records. In addition, inter-mission biases arise from, e.g., different sensor types and frequencies as well as varying footprint sizes affected by surface roughness across regions and seasons. Therefore, carrying out validation and inter-calibration studies is crucial for reliable and continuous observation of the Earth’s cryosphere. To achieve this, it is beneficial to have simultaneous measurements of freeboard, snow depth, and sea-ice thickness, which provide reference data for both direct satellite observations and geophysical target parameters. Here, we present Alfred Wegener Institute’s (AWI) IceBird program, which is a series of fixed-wing aircraft campaigns to measure Arctic sea ice and to monitor its change. During two late-winter campaigns in the western Arctic Ocean in 2017 and 2019, we have carried out surveys with the unique scientific instrument configuration including an airborne laser scanner (ALS) for surface topography and freeboard measurements, a tethered electromagnetic induction sounding instrument (EM-Bird) for total (snow+ice) thickness measurements, and an ultrawideband frequency-modulated continuous-wave microwave radar to measure snow thickness. Therefore, we are able to observe all three bounding interfaces in the sea-ice–snow system in high resolution along survey tracks on regional scales. During the ship-based drift expedition Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) between October 2019 and September 2020, helicopter surveys were carried out in high spatio-temporal resolution throughout the year, including the polar night, to measure freeboard and roughness with the ALS both in local grid pattern and in larger scale. Coincident EM-Bird ice thickness data and information from snow measurements on the ground will help linking these parameters and monitor them and their effect on satellite retrievals for a full seasonal cycle. The individual parameters are important for describing and monitoring the state of the Arctic sea ice and validating retrievals from satellite data, but combined they offer further possibilities to characterise sea ice. By assuming isostatic equilibrium, we are able to estimate up-to-date bulk density values for different sea-ice types from the IceBird data and to derive a parametrisation of sea-ice bulk density based on sea-ice freeboard. These data allow us to explore spatio-temporal variations in sea-ice parameters observable from space and to evaluate the validity of the freeboard-to-thickness conversion in satellite altimetry through comparison against dedicated satellite overpasses and orbit collections.

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Conference (Talk)
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ESA Living Planet Symposium 2022, 23 May 2022 - 27 May 2022, Bonn, Germany.
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Jutila, A. , Hendricks, S. , Ricker, R. , von Albedyll, L. , Krumpen, T. , Hutter, N. , Birnbaum, G. and Haas, C. (2022): Multi-sensor airborne observations of freeboard, snow depth, and sea-ice thickness in the Arctic , ESA Living Planet Symposium 2022, Bonn, Germany, 23 May 2022 - 27 May 2022 .

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Research Platforms

POLAR 5 > P5_205_PAMARCMIP_2017
POLAR 6 > P6_217_ICEBIRD_2019
PS > 122/1 (MOSAiC20192020)
PS > 122/2 (MOSAiC20192020)
PS > 122/3 (MOSAiC20192020)
PS > 122/4 (MOSAiC20192020)
PS > 122/5 (MOSAiC20192020)

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