Estimating englacial radar attenuation using depth profiles of the returned power, central West Antarctica



[1] We analyzed depth patterns of geometrically corrected returned power Pc from within the ice of central West Antarctica to develop a proxy for englacial radar attenuation. The depth patterns of [Pc]dB (Pc in the decibel scale) at individual sites were first approximated with least squares vertical gradients of the local mean [Pc]dB for five depth ranges. Variations of these gradients along radar tracks show identifiable trends but have local anomalous features over distances less than ∼5–10 km that are caused by smaller reflection from tilted internal layers above steep beds and other factors. Consequently, extraction of an attenuation proxy from the returned power requires mitigation of reflectivity variations. Next, returned power was synthesized only from bright layers assembled over distances much wider than the local anomalous features. Individual data ensembles show a clear upper (not lower) cutoff in [Pc]dB. The cutoff power decreases with depth linearly between ∼500 and ∼1600 m, which defines the upper envelope gradient. With the aid of attenuation and reflectivity modeling, we concluded that the upper envelope gradient can be an attenuation proxy in the isothermal ice that is expected in the upper half or more of central West Antarctica. The estimated attenuation rate in the upper ∼1600 m varies 5 dB km−1 (one way), equivalent to lateral temperature variations of about 2°C or chemistry variations of up to a factor of 2. This range indicates that the attenuation variations can significantly affect delineation of bed wetness on the basis of contrasts in power returned from the bed.