The determination of the snow optical grain diameter and snowmelt area on the Greenland ice sheet using spaceborne optical observations

Baptiste Vandecrux, Jason E Box, Adrien Wehrlé, Alexander A. Kokhanovsky, Ghislain Picard, Masashi Niwano, Maria Hörhold, Anne-Katrine Faber, Hans Christian Steen-Larsen

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6 Citations (Scopus)


The optical diameter of the surface snow grains impacts the amount of energy absorbed by the surface and therefore the onset and magnitude of surface melt. Snow grains respond to surface heating through grain metamorphism and growth. During melt, liquid water between the grains markedly increases the optical grain size, as wet snow grain clusters are optically equivalent to large grains. We present daily surface snow grain optical diameters (dopt) retrieved from the Greenland ice sheet at 1 km resolution for 2017–2019 using observations from Ocean and Land Colour Instrument (OLCI) onboard Sentinel-3A. The retrieved dopt are evaluated against 3 years of in situ measurements in Northeast Greenland. We show that higher dopt are indicative of surface melt as calculated from meteorological measurements at four PROMICE automatic weather stations. We deduce a threshold value of 0.64 mm in dopt allowing categorization of the days either as melting or nonmelting. We apply this simple melt detection technique in Northeast Greenland and compare the derived melting areas with the conventional passive microwave MEaSUREs melt flag for June 2019. The two flags show generally consistent evolution of the melt extent although we highlight areas where large grain diameters are strong indicators of melt but are missed by the MEaSUREs melt flag. While spatial resolution of the optical grain diameter-based melt flag is higher than passive microwave, it is hampered by clouds. Our retrieval remains suitable to study melt at a local to regional scales and could be in the future combined with passive microwave melt flags for increased coverage.
Original languageEnglish
Article number932
Number of pages22
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2022


  • Greenland ice sheet
  • OLCI
  • Optical remote sensing
  • Sentinel-3
  • Snow optical grain diameter
  • Surface melt

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 5: Nature and Climate


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