Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Uncertainties in Antarctic sea-ice thickness retrieval from ICESat

  • Stefan Kern (a1) and Gunnar Spreen (a2)

A sensitivity study was carried out for the lowest-level elevation method to retrieve total (sea ice + snow) freeboard from Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) elevation measurements in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica. Varying the percentage (P) of elevations used to approximate the instantaneous sea-surface height can cause widespread changes of a few to ˃10cm in the total freeboard obtained. Other input parameters have a smaller influence on the overall mean total freeboard but can cause large regional differences. These results, together with published ICESat elevation precision and accuracy, suggest that three times the mean per gridcell single-laser-shot error budget can be used as an estimate for freeboard uncertainty. Theoretical relative ice thickness uncertainty ranges between 20% and 80% for typical freeboard and snow properties. Ice thickness is computed from total freeboard using Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for Earth Observing System (AMSR-E) snow depth data. Average ice thickness for the Weddell Sea is 1.73 ± 0.38 m for ICESat measurements from 2004 to 2006, in agreement with previous work. The mean uncertainty is 0.72 ± 0.09 m. Our comparison with data of an alternative approach, which assumes that sea-ice freeboard is zero and that total freeboard equals snow depth, reveals an average sea-ice thickness difference of ∼0.77m.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Uncertainties in Antarctic sea-ice thickness retrieval from ICESat
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Uncertainties in Antarctic sea-ice thickness retrieval from ICESat
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Uncertainties in Antarctic sea-ice thickness retrieval from ICESat
      Available formats
Hide All
AndersenS, TonboeR, KaleschkeL, HeygsterG and PedersenLT (2007) Intercomparison of passive microwave sea ice concentration retrievals over the high-concentration Arctic sea ice. J. Geophys. Res., 112(C8), (C08004) (doi: 10.1029/ 2006JC003543)
BehrendtA and 7 others (2011) Variations of winter water properties and sea ice along the Greenwich meridian on decadal time scales. Deep-Sea Res. II, 58(25–26), (2524–2532) (doi: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2011.07.001)
BorsaAA MoholdtG, FrickerHA and BruntKM(2014) A range correction for ICESat and its potential impact on ice-sheet mass balance studies. Cryosphere, 8(2), 345357 (doi: 10.5194/tc-8-345-2014)
CavalieriDJ MarkusT and ComisoJ (2004) AMSR-E/Aqua Daily L3 12.5 km Brightness Temperature, Sea Ice Concentration, and Snow Depth Polar Grids, V012, September 2002 to November 2009. National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO Digital media:
ComisoJC CavalieriDJ and MarkusT (2003) Sea ice concentration, ice temperature, and snow depth using AMSR-E data. IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sens., 41(2), 243252 (doi: 10.1109/TGRS.2002.808317)
ConnorLN LaxonSW RidoutAL KrabillWB and McAdooDC (2009) Comparison of Envisat radar and airborne laser altimeter measurements over Arctic sea ice. Remote Sens. Environ., 113 (3), 563–570 (doi: 10.1016/j.rse.2008.10.015)
ConnorLN FarrellSL McAdooDC KrabillWB and ManizadeS (2013) Validating ICESat over thick sea ice in the Northern Canada Basin. IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sens., 51 (4 Pt 2), 2188–2200 (doi: 10.1109/TGRS.2012.2211603)
FarrellSL LaxonSW McAdooDC YiD and ZwallyHJ (2009) Five years of Arctic sea ice freeboard measurements from the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite. J. Geophys. Res., 114(C4), (C04008) (doi: 10.1029/2008JC005074)
GilesKA and 8 others (2007) Combined airborne laser and radar altimeter measurements over the Fram Strait in May 2002. Remote Sens. Environ., 111(2–3), (182–194) (doi: 10.1016/j. rse.2007.02.037)
HarmsS, FahrbachE and StrassVH (2001) Sea ice transports in the Weddell Sea. J. Geophys. Res., 106(C5), (9057–9073) (doi: 10.1029/1999JC000027)
KaleschkeL and 6 others (2001) SSM/I sea-ice remote sensing for mesoscale ocean–atmosphere interaction analysis. Can. J. Remote Sens., 27(5), 526537
KernS, Ozsoy-CicekB, WillmesS, NicolausM, HaasC and AckleyS (2011) An intercomparison between AMSR-E snow-depth and satellite C- and Ku-band radar backscatter data for Antarctic sea ice. Ann. Glaciol., 52(57 Pt 2), (279–290) (doi: 10.3189/ 172756411795931750)
KurtzNT and MarkusT (2012) Satellite observations of Antarctic sea ice thickness and volume. J. Geophys. Res., 117(C8), (C08025) (doi: 10.1029/2012JC008141)
KurtzNT and 6 others (2009) Estimation of sea ice thickness distributions through the combination of snow depth and satellite laser altimetry data. J. Geophys. Res., 114(C10), (C10007) (doi: 10.1029/2009JC005292)
KwokR (2002) Sea ice concentration estimates from satellite passive microwave radiometry and openings from SAR ice motion. Geophys. Res. Lett., 29(9), (1311) (doi: 10.1029/2002GL014787)
KwokR and CunninghamGF (2008) ICESat over Arctic sea ice: estimation of snow depth and ice thickness. J. Geophys. Res., 113(C8), (C08010) (doi: 10.1029/2008JC004753)
KwokR, ZwallyHJ and YiD (2004) ICESat observations of Arctic sea ice: a first look. Geophys. Res. Lett., 31(16), (L16401) (doi: 10.1029/2004GL020309)
KwokR, CunninghamGF ZwallyHJ and YiD (2007) Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) over Arctic sea ice: retrieval of freeboard. J. Geophys. Res., 112(C12), (C12013) (doi: 10.1029/ 2006JC003978)
KwokR, CunninghamGF WensnahanM, RigorI, ZwallyHJ and YiD (2009) Thinning and volume loss of the Arctic Ocean sea ice cover: 2003–2008. J. Geophys. Res., 114(C7), C07005 (doi: 10.1029/2009JC005312)
LaxonSW and 14 others (2013) CryoSat-2 estimates of Arctic sea ice thickness and volume. Geophys. Res. Lett., 40(4), 732737 (doi: 10.1002/grl.50193)
MarkusT and MarkusT (2008) Antarctic sea ice thickness and snow-to-ice conversion from atmospheric reanalysis and passive microwave snow depth. J. Geophys. Res., 113(C2), (C02S12 (doi: 10.1029/2006JC004085)
MarkusT and CavalieriDJ) (1998) Snow depth distribution over sea ice in the Southern Ocean from satellite passive microwave data. In Jeffries MO ed. Antarctic sea ice: physical processes, interactions and variability. (Antarctic Research Series 74) American Geophysical Union, Washington, DC, 1939
MarkusT, MassomR, WorbyA, LytleV, KurtzN and MaksymT (2011) Freeboard, snow depth and sea-ice roughness in East Antarctica from in situ and multiple satellite data. Ann. Glaciol., 52(57 Pt 2), (242–248) (doi: 10.3189/172756411795931570)
MassomRA and 12 others (2001) Snow on Antarctic sea ice. Rev. Geophys., 39(3), 413445 (doi: 10.1029/2000RG000085)
Ozsoy-CicekB, KernS, AckleySF XieH and TekeliAE (2011) Intercomparisons of Antarctic sea ice types from visual ship, RADARSAT-1SAR, Envisat ASAR, QuikSCAT, and AMSR-E satellite observations in the Bellingshausen Sea. Deep-Sea Res. II, 58(9–10), (1092–1111) (doi: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2010.10.031)
Ozsoy-CicekB, AckleyS, XieH, YiD and ZwallyJ (2013) Sea ice thickness retrieval algorithms based on in situ surface elevation and thickness values for application to altimetry. J. Geophys. Res., 118(8), 38073822 (doi: 10.1002/jgrc.20252)
PavlisNK HolmesSA KenyonSC and FactorJK (2012) The development and evaluation of the Earth Gravitational Model 2008 (EGM2008). J. Geophys. Res., 117(B4), (B04406) (doi: 10.1029/2011JB008916)
PriceD, RackW, HaasC, LanghornePJ and MarshO (2013) Sea ice freeboard in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, derived by surface-validated ICESat laser altimeter data. J. Geophys. Res., 118(7), 36343650 (doi: 10.1002/jgrc.20266)
RothrockDA and WensnahanM (2007) The accuracy of sea ice drafts measured from US Navy submarines. J. Atmos. Ocean. Technol., 24(11), 19361949 (doi: 10.1175/JTECH2097.1)
RöhrsJ and KaleschkeL (2012) An algorithm to detect sea ice leads by using AMSR-E passive microwave imagery. Cryosphere, 6(2), 343352 (doi: 10.5194/tc-6-343-2012)
SchweigerA, LindsayR, ZhangJ, SteeleM, SternH and KwokR (2011) Uncertainty in modeled Arctic sea ice volume. J. Geophys. Res., 116(C8), (C00D06) (doi: 10.1029/ 2011JC007084)
SpreenG (2008) Satellite-based estimates of sea ice volume flux: applications to the Fram Strait region. (PhD thesis, University of Hamburg)
SpreenG, KernS, StammerD, ForsbergR and HaarpaintnerJ (2006)Satellite-based estimates of sea-ice volume flux through Fram Strait. Ann. Glaciol., 44, 321–328 (doi: 10.3189/ 172756406781811385)
SpreenG, KaleschkeL and HeygsterG (2008)Sea ice remote sensing using AMSR-E 89-GHz channels. J. Geophys. Res., 113 (C2), C02S03 (doi: 10.1029/2005JC003384)
SpreenG, KernS, StammerD and HansenE (2009) Fram Strait sea ice volume export estimated between 2003 and 2008 from satellite data. Geophys. Res. Lett., 36(19), (L19502) (doi: 10.1029/ 2009GL039591)
StroeveJC and 8 others (2006) Impact of surface roughness on AMSR-E sea ice products. IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sens., 44(11), 31033117 (doi: 10.1109/TGRS.2006.880619)
WillmesS and HeinemannG (2015) Pan-Arctic sea-ice lead detection from MODIS thermal infrared imagery. Ann. Glaciol., 56(69), 2937 (doi: 10.3189/2015AoG69∆615)
WorbyAP MarkusT, SteelAD Lytle VI and Massom RA (2008) Evaluation of AMSR-E snow depth product over East Antarctic sea ice using in situ measurements and aerial photography. J. Geophys. Res., 113(C5), (C05S94) (doi: 10.1029/ 2007JC004181)
XieH and 7 others (2011) Sea-ice thickness distribution of the Bellingshausen Sea from surface measurements and ICESat altimetry. Deep-Sea Res. II, 58(9–10), (1039–1051) (doi: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2010.10.038)
XieH, TekeliAE AckleySF YiD and Zwally HJ (2013) Sea ice thickness estimations from ICESat Altimetry over the Bellingshausen and Amundsen Seas, 2003–2009. J. Geophys. Res., 118(5), 24382453 (doi: 10.1002/jgrc.20179)
YiD, Zwally HJ and Robbins JW (2011) ICESat observations of seasonal and interannual variations of sea-ice freeboard and estimated thickness in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica (2003–2009). Ann. Glaciol., 52(57 Pt 1), (43–51) (doi: 10.3189/ 172756411795931480)
ZwallyHJ YiD, KwokR and ZhaoY (2008) ICESat measurements of sea ice freeboard and estimates of sea ice thickness in the Weddell Sea. J. Geophys. Res., 113(C2), (C02S15) (doi: 10.1029/2007JC004284)
ZwallyH and 7 others (2011) GLAS/ICESat L2 sea ice altimetry data, Version 33 [Periods 2B to 3G].. National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO. Digital media: nsidc/org/data/gla13
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Annals of Glaciology
  • ISSN: 0260-3055
  • EISSN: 1727-5644
  • URL: /core/journals/annals-of-glaciology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 11 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 10 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 26th July 2017 - 22nd October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.