Rain on snow (ROS) understudied in sea ice remote sensing: a multi-sensor analysis of ROS during MOSAiC (Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate)

Julienne Stroeve*, Vishnu Nandan, Rosemary Willatt, Ruzica Dadic, Philip Rostosky, Michael Gallagher, Robbie Mallett, Andrew Barrett, Stefan Hendricks, Rasmus Tonboe, Michelle McCrystall, Mark Serreze, Linda Thielke, Gunnar Spreen, Thomas Newman, John Yackel, Robert Ricker, Michel Tsamados, Amy MacFarlane, Henna-Reetta HannulaMartin Schneebeli

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Arctic rain on snow (ROS) deposits liquid water onto existing snowpacks. Upon refreezing, this can form icy crusts at the surface or within the snowpack. By altering radar backscatter and microwave emissivity, ROS over sea ice can influence the accuracy of sea ice variables retrieved from satellite radar altimetry, scatterometers, and passive microwave radiometers. During the Arctic Ocean MOSAiC (Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate) expedition, there was an unprecedented opportunity to observe a ROS event using in situ active and passive microwave instruments similar to those deployed on satellite platforms. During liquid water accumulation in the snowpack from rain and increased melt, there was a 4-fold decrease in radar energy returned at Ku- and Ka-bands. After the snowpack refroze and ice layers formed, this decrease was followed by a 6-fold increase in returned energy. Besides altering the radar backscatter, analysis of the returned waveforms shows the waveform shape changed in response to rain and refreezing. Microwave emissivity at 19 and 89 GHz increased with increasing liquid water content and decreased as the snowpack refroze, yet subsequent ice layers altered the polarization difference. Corresponding analysis of the CryoSat-2 waveform shape and backscatter as well as AMSR2 brightness temperatures further shows that the rain and refreeze were significant enough to impact satellite returns. Our analysis provides the first detailed in situ analysis of the impacts of ROS and subsequent refreezing on both active and passive microwave observations, providing important baseline knowledge for detecting ROS over sea ice and assessing their impacts on satellite-derived sea ice variables.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4223-4250
Number of pages28
JournalThe Cryosphere
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 11 Oct 2022
Externally publishedYes

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