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Glaciology & Cryosphere

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Validation of CryoSat Measurements

CryoSat 2

In April 2010 the European Space Agency launched CryoSat-2, a satellite designed to measure the surface elevation and mass change across the world’s largest ice bodies. We have been involved in field validation of measurements made by the satellite.

The accuracy to which satellite-measured surface elevation change represents actual change in land-ice masses is imperfectly constrained. Satellite radar altimeters, such as CryoSat-2, when deployed over ice sheets experience backscatter from the surface and from within the snowpack, termed surface and volume backscatter respectively.

In order to assess the errors in satellite altimeter measurements of surface elevation, it is vital to know whether the return is originating at the ice sheet surface or from some depth below the surface.

Funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, we carried out field experiments in the middle of the Greenland Ice Sheet in 2004 and 2006 (associated with the original launch of CryoSat-1 which experienced a launch failure in 2005) and again in 2011.

We have demonstrated how temporal and spatial variations in the volume backscatter, due primarily to seasonal density variations in the snowpack stratigraphy, can be a complicating factor in the radar return from the ice sheet surface (e.g. Scott et al, 2006).

We have also shown that CryoSat-2 has the potential to derive spatially extensive, ice sheet wide, estimates of annual accumulation (de la Pena et al, 2010) - a parameter which is crucial for running ice sheet models and for determining long term changes in ice sheet mass balance.

People involved in this project:

  • Prof. Pete Nienow (Edinburgh)
  • Dr. Santiago de la Pena (Edinburgh, now Ohio State)
  • Dr. Victoria Parry (Edinburgh alum.)
  • Dr. Julian Scott (Edinburgh)
  • Dr. Doug Mair (Aberdeen)
Profiles of Edinburgh scientists »
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