Wind redistribution of snow impacts the Ka- and Ku-band radar signatures of Arctic sea ice

Vishnu Nandan*, Rosemary Willatt, Robbie Mallett, Julienne Stroeve, Torsten Geldsetzer, Randall Scharien, Rasmus Tonboe, John Yackel, Jack Landy, David Clemens-Sewall, Arttu Jutila, David N. Wagner, Daniela Krampe, Marcus Huntemann, Mallik Mahmud, David Jensen, Thomas Newman, Stefan Hendricks, Gunnar Spreen, Amy MacFarlaneMartin Schneebeli, James Mead, Robert Ricker, Michael Gallagher, Claude Duguay, Ian Raphael, Chris Polashenski, Michel Tsamados, Ilkka Matero, Mario Hoppmann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wind-driven redistribution of snow on sea ice alters its topography and microstructure, yet the impact of these processes on radar signatures is poorly understood. Here, we examine the effects of snow redistribution over Arctic sea ice on radar waveforms and backscatter signatures obtained from a surface-based, fully polarimetric Ka- and Ku-band radar at incidence angles between 0∘ (nadir) and 50∘. Two wind events in November 2019 during the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) expedition are evaluated. During both events, changes in Ka- and Ku-band radar waveforms and backscatter coefficients at nadir are observed, coincident with surface topography changes measured by a terrestrial laser scanner. At both frequencies, redistribution caused snow densification at the surface and the uppermost layers, increasing the scattering at the air–snow interface at nadir and its prevalence as the dominant radar scattering surface. The waveform data also detected the presence of previous air–snow interfaces, buried beneath newly deposited snow. The additional scattering from previous air–snow interfaces could therefore affect the range retrieved from Ka- and Ku-band satellite altimeters. With increasing incidence angles, the relative scattering contribution of the air–snow interface decreases, and the snow–sea ice interface scattering increases. Relative to pre-wind event conditions, azimuthally averaged backscatter at nadir during the wind events increases by up to 8 dB (Ka-band) and 5 dB (Ku-band). Results show substantial backscatter variability within the scan area at all incidence angles and polarizations, in response to increasing wind speed and changes in wind direction. Our results show that snow redistribution and wind compaction need to be accounted for to interpret airborne and satellite radar measurements of snow-covered sea ice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2211-2229
Number of pages19
JournalThe Cryosphere
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2023
Externally publishedYes

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