Sentinel-1 detection of ice slabs on the Greenland Ice Sheet

Culberg, Riley; Michaelides, Roger J.; Miller, Julie Z.

Ice slabs are multi-meter-thick layers of refrozen ice that limit meltwater storage in firn, leading to enhanced surface runoff and ice sheet mass loss. To date, ice slabs have primarily been mapped using airborne ice-penetrating radar, which has limited spatial and temporal coverage. This makes it difficult to fully assess the current extent and continuity of ice slabs or to validate predictive models of ice slab evolution that are key to understanding their impact on Greenland's surface mass balance. Here, for the first time, we map the extent of ice slabs and superimposed ice facies across the entire Greenland Ice Sheet at 500 inline-formulam resolution using dual-polarization Sentinel-1 (inline-formulaS-1) synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) data collected in winter 2016–2017. We do this by selecting empirical thresholds for the cross-polarized backscatter ratio and inline-formulaHV backscattered power that jointly optimize the agreement between airborne ice-penetrating radar data detections of ice slabs and the inline-formulaS-1 estimates of ice slab extent. Our results show that there is a strong correlation between C-band backscatter and the ice content of the upper inline-formula∼ 7 inline-formulam of the firn column that enables ice slab mapping with inline-formulaS-1. Our new mapping shows that ice slabs are nearly continuous around the entire margin of the ice sheet. This includes regions in southwest Greenland where ice slabs have not been previously identified by ice-penetrating radar but where the inline-formulaS-1-inferred ice slab extent shows strong agreement with the extent of visible runoff mapped from optical imagery. The algorithm developed here lays the groundwork for the long-term monitoring of ice slab expansion with current and future C-band satellite systems and highlights the potential added value of future L-band missions for near-surface studies in Greenland.

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Culberg, Riley / Michaelides, Roger J. / Miller, Julie Z.: Sentinel-1 detection of ice slabs on the Greenland Ice Sheet. 2024. Copernicus Publications.

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