Three years of sea ice freeboard, snow depth, and ice thickness of the Weddell Sea from Operation IceBridge and CryoSat-2

Kwok, Ron; Kacimi, Sahra

We examine the variability of sea ice freeboard, snow depth, and ice thickness in three years (2011, 2014, and 2016) of repeat surveys of an IceBridge (OIB) transect across the Weddell Sea. Averaged over this transect, ice thickness ranges from inline-formula2.40±1.07 (2011) to inline-formula2.60±1.15 m (2014) and snow depth from inline-formula35.8±11.5 (2016) to inline-formula43.6±10.2 cm (2014), suggesting a highly variable but broadly thicker ice cover compared to that inferred from drilling and ship-based measurements. Spatially, snow depth and ice thickness are higher in the more deformed ice of the western Weddell. The impact of undersampling the thin end of the snow depth distribution on the regional statistics, due to the resolution of the snow radar, is assessed.

Radar freeboards (uncompensated for snow thickness) from CryoSat-2 (CS-2) sampled along the same transect are consistently higher (by up to 8 cm) than those computed using OIB data. This suggests radar scattering that originates above the snow–ice interface, possibly due to salinity in the basal layer of the snow column. Consequently, sea ice thicknesses computed using snow depth estimates solely from differencing OIB and CS-2 freeboards (without snow radar) are therefore generally higher; mean differences in sea ice thickness along a transect are up to inline-formula∼0.6 m higher (in 2014). This analysis is relevant to the use of differences between ICESat-2 and CS-2 freeboards to estimate snow depth for ice thickness calculations. Our analysis also suggests that, even with these expected biases, this is an improvement over the assumption that snow depth is equal to the total freeboard, with which the underestimation of thickness could be up to a meter. Importantly, better characterization of the source of these biases is critical for obtaining improved estimates and understanding the limits of retrievals of Weddell Sea ice thickness from satellite altimeters.

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Kwok, Ron / Kacimi, Sahra: Three years of sea ice freeboard, snow depth, and ice thickness of the Weddell Sea from Operation IceBridge and CryoSat-2. 2018. Copernicus Publications.

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