New data set of onset of annual snowmelt on Antarctic sea ice



The annual onset of snowmelt on sea ice is essential for climate monitoring since it triggers a decrease in surface albedo that feeds back into a stronger absorption of shortwave radiation—a process known as the snowmelt-albedo feedback—and thus strongly modifies the surface energy balance during summer [Curry et al., 1995]. Algorithms designed for the detection of snowmelt on Arctic sea ice and based on longterm passive-microwave data [Anderson, 1997; Drobot and Anderson, 2001] revealed the melt season in the Arctic from 1979 to 1998 to be significantly elongated and the onset of melt to be shifted toward earlier dates [Drobot and Anderson, 2001; Belchansky et al., 2004].

In the Antarctic, however, little effort has been made so far in detecting the length of the summer melt season on sea ice by means of satellite microwave data. This results from the fact that surface melting in the Antarctic differs significantly from corresponding processes in the Arctic [Nicolaus et al., 2006]. The hemispheric differences are supported by extensive field measurements [Massom et al., 2001; Haas et al., 2001 ] and find expression in a reversal of the general surface radar backscatter and brightness temperature (TB) tendencies during summer [Haas, 2001; Kern and Heygster, 2001] : In the Antarctic, sea ice backscatter increases and TB decreases when summer approaches, contrary to the Arctic. Hence, algorithms developed for Arctic sea ice are not applicable on its southern counterpart. As summer air temperatures in the Antarctic rarely rise above 0°C, classical surface melt ponds have never been observed to the extent they appear in the Arctic and the sea ice surface typically remains snow-covered year-round. Drinkwater and Liu [2000] investigate snowmelt on Antarctic sea ice based on a method that identifies a decrease in surface radar backscatter. However, they detect melt to be lasting for only some days and exclusively on first-year ice. Presumably, the backscatter decrease they observe is due to flooding of the snow before the ice underneath finally deteriorates.