Surface and radiative characteristics of the summer Arctic sea ice cover from multisensor satellite observations


  • Josefino C. Comiso,

  • Ron Kwok


Accurate quantification and characterization of the Arctic summer ice cover are needed for mass balance, heat flux, and modeling studies in the region. A general assessment of the state and basic characteristics of the ice cover can best be done in summer because it is when the perennial component is fully revealed. The main source of summer ice information has been passive microwave and to a lesser degree active microwave data. However, the emissivity and backscatter of sea ice are abnormal and difficult to resolve during this time period, causing large uncertainties in the interpretation of satellite data. In this study we examined the state of the sea ice cover by using special scanning microwave imager (SSM/I), synthetic aperture radar (SAR), and advanced very high resolution radiometer (AVHRR) satellite data synergistically. The surface and radiative characteristics of the summer ice cover were evaluated in the context of three special events: onset of melt, melt ponding, and freeze-up. These events affect the emissivity and backscatter and may alter the albedo and ice structure. Onset of melt is readily detectable and is shown to migrate rapidly to the north in June. Melt ponding is not directly observable but is postulated to be the main cause of the decreases in brightness temperatures and large discrepancies between the SSM/I and SAR ice concentration results in many areas. In these areas, SAR and AVHRR results show concentrations near 100%, while the SSM/I data were as low as 70%. During freeze-up the ice signatures are still quite different from those of midwinter ice, but the ice concentrations from SSM/I generally agree well with those from SAR data. Our results show that, generally, the average ice concentration within the pack is usually greater than 90% during the summer, which is substantially larger than that inferred previously from passive microwave data. The use of combined SAR and SSM/I data may also provide melt-ponding fraction and first-order estimate of albedo in the Arctic region.