Estimating early-winter Antarctic sea ice thickness from deformed ice morphology

Mei, M. Jeffrey; Maksym, Ted; Weissling, Blake; Singh, Hanumant

Satellites have documented variability in sea ice areal extent for decades, but there are significant challenges in obtaining analogous measurements for sea ice thickness data in the Antarctic, primarily due to difficulties in estimating snow cover on sea ice. Sea ice thickness (SIT) can be estimated from snow freeboard measurements, such as those from airborne/satellite lidar, by assuming some snow depth distribution or empirically fitting with limited data from drilled transects from various field studies. Current estimates for large-scale Antarctic SIT have errors as high as inline-formula∼50 %, and simple statistical models of small-scale mean thickness have similarly high errors. Averaging measurements over hundreds of meters can improve the model fits to existing data, though these results do not necessarily generalize to other floes. At present, we do not have algorithms that accurately estimate SIT at high resolutions. We use a convolutional neural network with laser altimetry profiles of sea ice surfaces at 0.2 m resolution to show that it is possible to estimate SIT at 20 m resolution with better accuracy and generalization than current methods (mean relative errors inline-formula∼15 %). Moreover, the neural network does not require specification of snow depth or density, which increases its potential applications to other lidar datasets. The learned features appear to correspond to basic morphological features, and these features appear to be common to other floes with the same climatology. This suggests that there is a relationship between the surface morphology and the ice thickness. The model has a mean relative error of 20 % when applied to a new floe from the region and season. This method may be extended to lower-resolution, larger-footprint data such as such as Operation IceBridge, and it suggests a possible avenue to reduce errors in satellite estimates of Antarctic SIT from ICESat-2 over current methods, especially at smaller scales.

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Mei, M. Jeffrey / Maksym, Ted / Weissling, Blake / et al: Estimating early-winter Antarctic sea ice thickness from deformed ice morphology. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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