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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.

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