The first known fully polarimetric airborne synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data set of sea ice is introduced. Images were acquired in the Beaufort, Bering and Chukchi seas in March 1988, during a campaign for validation of Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Special Sensor Microwave Imager radiometer ice products. Statistics of the magnitude, phase and polarization of complex backscattered signals recorded by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory three-frequency SAR are examined in detail for various scenes with different ice characteristics. The full Stokes matrix information generated from C, L, and P band data characterize the scattering behavior of different ice types. Polarization ratios and phase differences between linear copolarized returns are used for discrimination between particular image features and mechanisms are suggested for the observed polarimetric characteristics. Results indicate that combinations of frequency and polarization enhance current capability to distinguish ice of different properties using single frequency, fixed polarization micro-wave radar. A specific example is the polarimetric identification of new ice formation which may not be easily distinguished in ERS-1 5.3GHz, VV polarization SAR data. Such findings are consistent with theoretical model simulations of scattering characteristics of sea ice. Overall, these preliminary results demonstrate that radar polarimetry will likely add a new dimension to our current capability for extracting geophysically important ice variables using radar remote sensing methods.
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