The sensitivity of satellite microwave observations to liquid water in the Antarctic snowpack

Ghislain Picard, Marion Leduc-Leballeur, Alison F. Banwell, Ludovic Brucker, Giovanni Macelloni

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftArtikelForskningpeer review

6 Citationer (Scopus)


Surface melting on the Antarctic Ice Sheet has been monitored by satellite microwave radiometry for over 40 years. Despite this long perspective, our understanding of the microwave emission from wet snow is still limited, preventing the full exploitation of these observations to study supraglacial hydrology. Using the Snow Microwave Radiative Transfer (SMRT) model, this study investigates the sensitivity of microwave brightness temperature to snow liquid water content at frequencies from 1.4 to 37 GHz. We first determine the snowpack properties for eight selected coastal sites by retrieving profiles of density, grain size and ice layers from microwave observations when the snowpack is dry during wintertime. Second, a series of brightness temperature simulations is run with added water. The results show that (i) a small quantity of liquid water (≈0.5 kgm-2) can be detected, but the actual quantity cannot be retrieved out of the full range of possible water quantities; (ii) the detection of a buried wet layer is possible up to a maximum depth of 1 to 6 m depending on the frequency (6-37 GHz) and on the snow properties (grain size, density) at each site; (iii) surface ponds and water-saturated areas may prevent melt detection, but the current coverage of these waterbodies in the large satellite field of view is presently too small in Antarctica to have noticeable effects; and (iv) at 1.4 GHz, while the simulations are less reliable, we found a weaker sensitivity to liquid water and the maximal depth of detection is relatively shallow (<10 m) compared to the typical radiation penetration depth in dry firn (≈1000 m) at this low frequency. These numerical results pave the way for the development of improved multi-frequency algorithms to detect melt intensity and the depth of liquid water below the surface in the Antarctic snowpack.

Sider (fra-til)5061-5083
Antal sider23
Udgave nummer12
StatusUdgivet - 21 dec. 2022


  • Programområde 5: Natur og klima


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