Remote Sensing of Surface Melt on Antarctica: Opportunities and Challenges

Sophie de Roda Husman, Zhongyang Hu, Bert Wouters, Peter Kuipers Munneke, Sanne Veldhuijsen, Stef Lhermitte

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Surface melt is an important driver of ice shelf disintegration and its consequent mass loss over the Antarctic Ice Sheet. Monitoring surface melt using satellite remote sensing can enhance our understanding of ice shelf stability. However, the sensors do not measure the actual physical process of surface melt, but rather observe the presence of liquid water. Moreover, the sensor observations are influenced by the sensor characteristics and surface properties. Therefore, large inconsistencies can exist in the derived melt estimates from different sensors. In this study, we apply state-of-the-art melt detection algorithms to four frequently used remote sensing sensors, i.e., two active microwave sensors, which are Advanced Scatterometer (ASCAT) and Sentinel-1, a passive microwave sensor, i.e., Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder (SSMIS), and an optical sensor, i.e., Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). We intercompare the melt detection results over the entire Antarctic Ice Sheet and four selected study regions for the melt seasons 2015-2020. Our results show large spatiotemporal differences in detected melt between the sensors, with particular disagreement in blue ice areas, in aquifer regions, and during wintertime surface melt. We discuss that discrepancies between sensors are mainly due to cloud obstruction and polar darkness, frequency-dependent penetration of satellite signals, temporal resolution, and spatial resolution, as well as the applied melt detection methods. Nevertheless, we argue that different sensors can complement each other, enabling improved detection of surface melt over the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2462-2480
Number of pages19
JournalIEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Antarctic Ice Sheet
  • Antarctica
  • Earth Observation
  • ice shelves
  • Land surface
  • melt detection
  • multi-source remote sensing
  • Ocean temperature
  • polar regions
  • satellite observations
  • Sea surface
  • Sensors
  • Surface topography
  • Surface treatment


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