Skip to main content

Adaptively constraining radar attenuation and temperature across the Thwaites Glacier catchment using bed echoes


Englacial temperature is a major control on ice rheology and flow. However, it is difficult to measure at the glacier to ice-sheet scale. As a result, ice-sheet models must make assumptions about englacial temperature and rheology, which affect sea level projections. This is problematic if fundamental processes are not captured by models due to a lack of observationally constrained ice temperature values. Although radar sounding data have been exploited to constrain the temperature structure of the Greenland ice sheet using englacial layers, this approach is limited to areas and depths where these layers exist intact. In order to extend empirical radar-based temperature estimation beyond this limitation, we present a new technique for estimating englacial attenuation rates for the entire ice column using adaptive fitting of unfocused radar bed echoes based on the correlation of ice thickness and corrected bed echo power. We apply this technique to an airborne survey of Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica and compare the results with temperatures and attenuation rates from a numerical ice-sheet model. We find that the estimated attenuation rates reproduce modelled patterns and values across the catchment with the greatest differences near steeply sloping bed topography.

  • 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.

      Adaptively constraining radar attenuation and temperature across the Thwaites Glacier catchment using bed echoes
      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.

      Adaptively constraining radar attenuation and temperature across the Thwaites Glacier catchment using bed echoes
      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.

      Adaptively constraining radar attenuation and temperature across the Thwaites Glacier catchment using bed echoes
      Available formats
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
Correspondence: Dustin Schroeder <>
Hide All
Aschwanden A, Bueler E, Khroulev C and Blatter H (2012) An enthalpy formulation for glaciers and ice sheets. J. Glaciol., 58(209), 441457
Barrella T, Barwick S and Salzberg D (2011) Ross Ice Shelf (Antarctica) in situ radio-frequency attenuation. J. Glaciol., 57(201), 6166
Bogorodsky VV, Bentley CC and Gudmandsen P (1985) Radioglaciology, 1st edn. D. Reidel, Dordrecht, Holland
Boithias L (1987) Radiowave propagation. McGraw-Hill, London
Carter SP, Blankenship DD, Young DA and Holt JW (2009) Using radar data to identify the sources and distribution of subglacial water in radar-sounding data: application to Dome C, East Antarctica. J. Glaciol., 55(194), 10251040
Chen JL, Wilson CR, Tapley BD, Blankenship DD and Young DA (2008) Antarctic regional ice loss rates from GRACE. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 266(1), 140148
Corr HFJ, Moore JC and Nicholls KW (1993) Radar absorption due to impurities in Antarctic ice. Geophys. Res. Lett., 20(11), 10711074 (doi: 10.1029/93GL01395)
Cuffey KM and Paterson WSB (2010) The physics of glaciers, 4th edn. Elsevier, Burlington, Mass, 693 pp
Dowdeswell JA and Evans S (2004) Investigations of the form and flow of ice sheets and glaciers using radio-echo sounding. Rep. Prog. Phys., 67(10), 1821
Drews R and 6 others (2009) Layer disturbances and the radio-echo free zone in ice sheets. Cyrosphere, 3, 195203. (doi: 10.5194/tcd-3–307-2009)
Engelhardt H (2004) Thermal regime and dynamics of the West Antarctic ice sheet. J. Climatol., 39, 8592
Fox Maule C, Purucker M, Olsen N and Mosegard K (2005) Heat flux anomalies in Antarctica revealed by satellite magnetic data. Science, 309(5733), 464467
Fujita S and others (2012) Radar diagnosis of the subglacial conditions in Dronning Maud Land, East Antarctica. Cyrosphere, 6, 12031219 (doi: 10.5194/tc-6–1203-2012)
Fretwell P and 59 others (2013) Bedmap2: improved ice bed, surface, and thickness datasets for Antarctica. Cyrosphere, 7, 3750393 (doi: 10.5194/tc-7-375-2013)
Gudmandsen P (1971) Electromagnetic probing of ice. In Wait J. Electromagnetic probing in geophysics. Golem Press, Boulder, CO, 321348
Holt JW and 8 others (2006) New boundary conditions for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet: subglacial topography of the Thwaites and Smith glacier catchments. Geophys. Res. Lett., 33(9), L09502 (doi: 10.1029/2005GL025561)
Jacobel RW, Welch BC, Osterhouse D, Pettersson R and MacGregor JA (2009) Spatial variation of radar-derived basal conditions on Kamb Ice Stream, West Antarctica. Ann. Glaciol., 50(51), 1016
Jacobel RW and 5 others (2010) A comparison of bed refectivity and velocity in East Antarctica. The Cyrosphere, 4, 447452 (doi: 10.5194/tc-4-447-2010)
Jordan TM and 7 others (2016) An ice-sheet wide framework for englacial attenuation and basal reflection from ice penetrating radar data. The Cryosph., 10, 15471570 (doi: 10.5194/tc-10-1547-2016)
Joughin I and 6 others (2009) Basal conditions for Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers, West Antarctica, determined using satellite and airborne data. J. Glaciol., 55(190), 245257
Joughin I, Smith BE and Medley B (2014) Marine ice sheet collapse potentially under way for the Thwaites Glacier Basin, West Antarctica. Science, 344(6185), 735738
Lenaerts JT, Den Broeke MR, Berg WJ, Meijgaard EV and Kuipers Munneke P (2012) A new, high-resolution surface mass balance map of Antarctica (1979–2010) based on regional atmospheric climate modelling. Geophys. Res. Lett., 39(4), L04501, (doi: 10.1029/2011GL050713)
Larour E, Seroussi H, Morlighem M and Rignot E (2012) Continental scale, high order, high spatial resolution, ice sheet modelling using the Ice Sheet System model (ISSM). J. Geophys. Res., 117(F01022), (doi: 10.1029/2011JF002140)
MacGregor JA and 5 others (2007) modelling englacial radar attenuation at Siple Dome, West Antarctica, using ice chemistry and temperature data. J. Geophys. Res., 112, F03008 (doi: 10.1029/2006JF000717)
MacGregor JA, Matsuoka K, Waddington ED, Winebrenner DP and Pattyn F (2012) Spatial variation of englacial radar attenuation: modelling approach and application to the Vostok fowline. J. Geophys. Res., 117, F03022 (doi: 10.1029/2011JF002327)
MacGregor JA and 7 others (2013) Weak bed control of the eastern shear margin of Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica. J. Glaciol., 59(217), 900912
MacGregor JA and 11 others (2015) Radar attenuation and temperature within the Greenland Ice Sheet. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 120(6), 9831008
Matsuoka K (2011) Pitfalls in radar diagnosis of ice-sheet bed conditions: lessons from englacial attenuation models. Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L05505 (doi: 10.1029/2010GL046205)
Matsuoka K, Morse D and Raymond CF (2010) Estimating englacial radar attenuation using depth profles of the returned power, central West Antarctica. J. Geophys. Res., 115, F02012 (doi: 10.1029/2009JF001496)
Matsuoka K, MacGregor JA and Pattyn F (2012) Predicting radar attenuation across Antarctica. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 359–360, 173183 (doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2012.10.018)
Morlighem M and 5 others (2010) Spatial patterns of basal drag inferred using control methods from a full-Stokes and simpler models for Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica. Geophys. Res. Lett., 37(L14502) (doi: 10.1029/2010GL043853)
Mouginot J, Rignot E and Scheuchl B (2014) Sustained increase in ice discharge from the Amundsen Sea Embayment, West Antarctica, from 1973 to 2013. J. Geophys. Res., 41, 15761584 (doi: 10.1002/2013GL059069)
Oswald GKA and Gogineni SP (2008) Recovery of subglacial water extent from Greenland radar survey data. J. Glaciol., 54(184), 94106
Parizek BR and 10 others (2013) Dynamic (in) stability of Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 118(2), 638655
Peters ME, Blankenship DD and Morse DL (2005) Analysis techniques for coherent airborne radar sounding: application to West Antarctic ice streams. J. Geophys. Res., 110, B06303 (doi:
Pollard D, DeConto RM and Alley RB (2015) Potential Antarctic Ice Sheet retreat driven by hydrofracturing and ice cliff failure. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 412, 112121
Pritchard HD, Arthen RJ, Vaughan DG and Edwards LA (2009) Extensive dynamic thinning on the margins of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Nature, 461(7266), 971975
Rignot E, Mouginot J and Scheuchl B (2011) Ice flow of the Antarctic ice sheet. Science, 333, 14271430 (doi: 10.1126/science.1208336)
Rignot E, Mouginot J, Morlighem M, Seroussi H and Scheuchl B (2014) Widespread, rapid grounding line retreat of Pine Island, Thwaites, Smith, and Kohler glaciers, West Antarctica, from 1992 to 2011. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41, 35023509 (doi: 10.1002/2014GL060140)
Robin GdQ, Evans S and Bailey JT (1969) Interpretation of radio echo sounding in polar ice sheets. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. London A, 265(1166), 437505
Schoof C (2007) Ice sheet grounding line dynamics: steady states, stability, and hysteresis. J. Geophys. Res., 112, F03S28 (doi: 10.1029/2006JF000664)
Schroeder DM, Blankenship DD, Young DA, Witus AE and Anderson JB (2014) Airborne radar sounding evidence for deformable sediments and outcropping bedrock beneath Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41, 72007208 (doi: 10.1002/ 2014GL061645)
Schroeder DM, Blankenship DD, Raney RK and Grima C (2015) Estimating subglacial water geometry using radar bed echo specularity: application to Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica. Geosci. Remote Sens. Lett. IEEE, 3, 443447
Schroeder DM, Grima C and Blankenship DD (2016) Evidence for variable grounding-zone and shear-margin basal conditions across Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica. Geophysics, 81(1), WA35WA43
Seroussi H and 5 others (2013) Dependence of century-scale projections of the Greenland ice sheet on its thermal regime. J. Glaciol., 59, 10241034
Sutterley TC and 7 others (2014) Mass loss of the Amundsen Sea Embayment of West Antarctica from four independent techniques. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41, 84218428 (doi: 10.1002/2014GL061940)
Stocker TF and 9 others (2013) IPCC, 2013: climate change 2013: the physical science basis. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Working Group I Contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) Cambridge Univ Press, New York
Thomas RH and Bentley CR (1978) A modell for Holocene retreat of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Quat. Res., 10, 150170 (doi: 10.1016/0033-5894(78)90098-4)
Tinto K and Bell RE (2011) Progressive unpinning of Thwaites Glacier from newly identified offshore ridge: constraints from aerogravity. Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L20503 (doi: 10.1029/2011GL049026)
Tsai VC, Stewart AL and Thompson AF (2015) Marine ice sheet profiles and stability under Coulomb basal conditions. J. Glaciol., 61, 205215 (doi: 10.3189/2015JoG14J221)
Weertman J (1974) Stability of the junction of an ice sheet and an ice shelf. J. Glaciol., 13, 311
Winebrenner DP, Smith BE, Catania GA, Conway HB and Raymond CF (2003) Radio-frequency attenuation beneath Siple Dome, West Antarctica, from wide-angle and profiling radar observations. Ann. Glaciol., 37, 226232
Wolff EW, Miners WD, Moore JC and Paren JG (1997) Factors controlling the electrical conductivity of ice from the polar regions: a summary. J. Phys. Chem. B, 101(32), 60906094
Wright AP and 10 others (2012) Evidence of a hydrological connection between the ice divide and ice sheet margin in the Aurora Subglacial Basin, East Antarctica. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 117, F01033, (doi: 10.1029/2011JF002066)
Young DA, Schroeder DM, Blankenship DD, Kempf SD and Quartini E (2016) The distribution of basal water between Antarctic subglacial lakes from radar sounding: a summary. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A., 374(2059), 60906094, v20140297
Recommend this journal

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

Journal of Glaciology
  • ISSN: 0022-1430
  • EISSN: 1727-5652
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-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: 34
Total number of PDF views: 305 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 729 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 9th September 2016 - 17th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.