Detection of superimposed ice on the glaciers Kongsvegen and midre Lovenbreen, Svalbard, using SAR satellite imagery

M Konig, J Wadham, JG Winther, J Kohler, AM Nuttall

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Superimposed ice forms when meltwater refreezes onto a sub-freezing glacier surface. The accumulation zones of many Arctic glaciers include large areas of superimposed ice, which for mass-balance purposes have to be distinguished from the ablation zone consisting of glacier ice. We examine the ability of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite sensors to detect superimposed ice on the glaciers Kongsvegen and midre Lovénbreen on Svalbard. Structural analysis of ice cores as well as surface observations from these glaciers in 1999 and 2000 provide a spatial record of superimposed ice. Winter SAR images show three distinct zones, which correspond closely to areas of glacier ice, superimposed ice and firn. This is seen very clearly on Kongsvegen, but not as clearly on the much smaller midre Lovénbreen. One possible explanation for the contrasting SAR signal may relate to the differing air-bubble content of firn, superimposed ice and glacier ice. Thin layers of winter-formed superimposed ice (<10 cm) in some places are not seen on the SAR images, indicating that a certain thickness is needed for detection. The equilibrium-line altitude cannot be detected since the SAR cannot differentiate old superimposed ice, superimposed ice formed currently in the accumulation area in summer and superimposed ice formed currently in the ablation zone in autumn and winter.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)335-342
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of Glaciology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2002

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