Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans

Sea ice motion from satellite passive microwave imagery assessed with ERS SAR and buoy motions


  • R. Kwok,

  • A. Schweiger,

  • D. A. Rothrock,

  • S. Pang,

  • C. Kottmeier


Observing the motion of sea ice from space is analogous to observing wind stress over the wet oceans; both provide surface forcing for modeling ocean dynamics. Ice motion also directly provides the advective component of the equations governing the mass balance of the sea ice cover. Thus its routine observation from space would be of great value to understanding ice and ocean behavior. To demonstrate the feasibility of creating a global multidecadal ice motion record from satellite passive microwave imagery and to quantitatively assess the errors in the estimated ice motions, we have tracked ice every 3 days in the Arctic Ocean and daily in the Fram Strait and Baffin Bay during the 8 winter months from October 1992 to May 1993 and daily in the Weddell Sea during the 8 winter months from March to October 1992. The method, which has been well used previously, involves finding the spatial offset that maximizes the cross correlation of the brightness temperature fields over 100-km patches in two images separated in time by from 1 to 3 days. The resulting ice motions are compared with contemporaneous buoyand SAR-derived ice motions. The uncertainties in the displacement vectors, between 5 and 12 km, are better than the spatial resolution of the data. Both 85-GHz data with 12-km spatial resolution and 37-GHz data with 25-km resolution are tracked. These trials with the 37-GHz data are new and show quite surprisingly that the error is only about 1 km larger with these data than with the 12-km 85-GHz data. Errors are typically larger than average in areas of lower ice concentration; in the most dynamic regions, particularly near the ice edge in the Barents and Greenland Seas; and in zones of high shear. These passive microwave ice motions show a large increase in spatial detail over motion fields optimally interpolated from buoy and wind observations, especially where buoy data are virtually absent such as near coasts and in some passages between the Arctic Ocean and its peripheral seas. The feasibility of obtaining ice motion from the 37-GHz data in addition to the 85-GHz data should allow an important record of ice motion to be established for the duration of the scanning multichannel microwave radiometer (SMMR), special sensor microwave/imager (SSM/I), and future microwave sensors, that is, from 1978 into the next millenium.