Summer snowmelt patterns in the South Shetlands using TerraSAR-X imagery

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Carla Mora1, Juan Javier Jimenez2, Joao Catalao Fernades1, Alice Ferreira1, Ana David1, Miguel Ramos3 and Goncalo Vieira1, (1)Universidade de Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal, (2)University of Alcalá, Madrid, Spain, (3)Universidad de Alcalá, Alcalá de Henares, Spain
Snow plays an important role in controlling ground thermal regime and thus influencing permafrost distribution in the lower areas of the South Shetlands archipelago, where late lying snowpatches protect the soil from summer warming. However, summer snow distribution is complex in the mountainous environments of the Maritime Antarctica and it is very difficult to obtain accurate mapping products of snow cover extent and also to monitor snowmelt. Field observations of snow cover in the region are currently based on: i) thickness data from a very scarce network of meteorological stations, ii) temperature poles allowing to estimate snow thickness, iii) and time-lapse cameras allowing for assessing snow distribution over relatively small areas. The high cloudiness of the Maritime Antarctic environment limits good mapping results from the analysis of optical remote sensing imagery such as Landsat, QuickBird or GeoEye. Therefore, microwave sensors provide the best imagery, since they are not influenced by cloudiness and are sensitive to wet-snow, typical of the melting season.

We have acquired TerraSAR-X scenes for Deception and Livingston Islands for January-March 2014 in spotlight (HH, VV and HH/VV) and stripmap modes (HH) and analyse the radar backscattering for determining the differences between wet-snow, dry-snow and bare soil aiming at developing snow melt pattern maps. For ground truthing, snowpits were dug in order to characterize snow stratigraphy, grain size, grain type and snow density and to evaluate its effects on radar backscattering. Time-lapse cameras allow to identify snow patch boundaries in the field and ground surface temperatures obtained with minloggers, together with air temperatures, allow to identify the presence of snow cover in the ground. The current research is conducted in the framework of the project PERMANTAR-3 (Permafrost monitoring and modelling in Antarctic Peninsula – PTDC/AAG-GLO/3908/2012 of the FCT and PROPOLAR).