ICESat-2 Meltwater Depth Estimates: Application to Surface Melt on Amery Ice Shelf, East Antarctica

Helen Amanda Fricker, Philipp Arndt, Kelly M. Brunt, Rajashree Tri Datta, Zachary Fair, Michael F. Jasinski, Jonathan Kingslake, Lori A. Magruder, Bert Wouters, More Authors

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Surface melting occurs during summer on the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, but the volume of stored surface meltwater has been difficult to quantify due to a lack of accurate depth estimates. NASA's ICESat-2 laser altimeter brings a new capability: photons penetrate water and are reflected from both the water and the underlying ice; the difference provides a depth estimate. ICESat-2 sampled Amery Ice Shelf on January 2, 2019 and showed double returns from surface depressions, indicating meltwater. For four melt features, we compared depth estimates from eight algorithms: six based on ICESat-2 and two from coincident Landsat-8 and Sentinel-2 imagery. All algorithms successfully identified surface water at the same locations. Algorithms based on ICESat-2 produced the most accurate depths; the image-based algorithms underestimated depths (by 30%–70%). This implies that ICESat-2 depths can be used to tune image-based algorithms, moving us closer to quantifying stored meltwater volumes across Antarctica and Greenland.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020GL090550
Number of pages11
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Antarctica
  • Greenland
  • ICESat-2
  • ice shelves
  • surface melt


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