The potential of synthetic aperture radar interferometry for assessing meltwater lake dynamics on Antarctic ice shelves

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Abstract

Surface meltwater drains on several Antarctic ice shelves, resulting in surface and sub-surface lakes that are potentially critical for the ice shelf collapse. Despite these phenomena, our understanding and assessment of the drainage and refreezing of these lakes is limited, mainly due to lack of field observations and to the limitations of optical satellite imagery during polar night and in cloudy conditions. This paper explores the potential of backscatter intensity and of interferometric coherence and phase from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery as an alternative to assess the dynamics of meltwater lakes. In four case study regions over Amery and Roi Baudouin ice shelves, East Antarctica, we examine spatial and temporal variations in SAR backscatter intensity and interferometric (InSAR) coherence and phase over several lakes derived from Sentinel-1A/B C-band SAR imagery. Throughout the year, the lakes are observed in a completely frozen state, in a partially frozen state with a floating ice lid and as open-water lakes. Our analysis reveals that the meltwater lake delineation is challenging during the melting period when the contrast between melting snow and lakes is indistinguishable. Despite this finding, we show using a combination of backscatter and InSAR observations that lake dynamics can be effectively captured during other non-summertime months. Moreover, our findings highlight the utility of InSAR-based observations for discriminating between refrozen ice and sub-surface meltwater and indicate the potential for phase-based detection and monitoring of rapid meltwater drainage events. The potential of this technique to monitor these meltwater change events is, however, strongly determined by the satellite revisit interval and potential changes in scattering properties due to snowfall or melt events.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5309-5322
Number of pages14
JournalThe Cryosphere
Volume15
Issue number12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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