Snow-driven uncertainty in CryoSat-2-derived Antarctic sea ice thickness – insights from McMurdo Sound
Knowledge of the snow depth distribution on Antarctic sea ice is poor but is critical to obtaining sea ice thickness from satellite altimetry measurements of the freeboard. We examine the usefulness of various snow products to provide snow depth information over Antarctic fast ice in McMurdo Sound with a focus on a novel approach using a high-resolution numerical snow accumulation model (SnowModel). We compare this model to results from ECMWF ERA-Interim precipitation, EOS Aqua AMSR-E passive microwave snow depths and in situ measurements at the end of the sea ice growth season in 2011. The fast ice was segmented into three areas by fastening date and the onset of snow accumulation was calibrated to these dates. SnowModel captures the spatial snow distribution gradient in McMurdo Sound and falls within 2 cm snow water equivalent (s.w.e) of in situ measurements across the entire study area. However, it exhibits deviations of 5 cm s.w.e. from these measurements in the east where the effect of local topographic features has caused an overestimate of snow depth in the model. AMSR-E provides s.w.e. values half that of SnowModel for the majority of the sea ice growth season. The coarser-resolution ERA-Interim produces a very high mean s.w.e. value 20 cm higher than the in situ measurements. These various snow datasets and in situ information are used to infer sea ice thickness in combination with CryoSat-2 (CS-2) freeboard data. CS-2 is capable of capturing the seasonal trend of sea ice freeboard growth but thickness results are highly dependent on what interface the retracked CS-2 height is assumed to represent. Because of this ambiguity we vary the proportion of ice and snow that represents the freeboard – a mathematical alteration of the radar penetration into the snow cover – and assess this uncertainty in McMurdo Sound. The ranges in sea ice thickness uncertainty within these bounds, as means of the entire growth season, are 1.08, 4.94 and 1.03 m for SnowModel, ERA-Interim and AMSR-E respectively. Using an interpolated in situ snow dataset we find the best agreement between CS-2-derived and in situ thickness when this interface is assumed to be 0.07 m below the snow surface.