Characterizing Englacial Attenuation and Grounding Zone Geometry Using Airborne Radar Sounding

Friday, 19 December 2014
Dustin M Schroeder1, Cyril Grima2 and Donald D Blankenship2, (1)Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, United States, (2)University of Texas at Austin, Institute for Geophysics, Austin, TX, United States
The impact of warm ocean water on ice sheet retreat and stability is a one of the primary drivers and sources of uncertainty for the rate of global sea level rise. One critical but challenging observation required to understand and model this impact is the location and extent of grounding ice sheet zones. However, existing surface topography based techniques do not directly detect the location where ocean water reaches (or breaches) grounded ice at the bed, which can significantly affect ice sheet stability.

The primary geophysical tool for directly observing the basal properties of ice sheets is airborne radar sounding. However, uncertainty in englacial attenuation from unknown ice temperature and chemistry can lead to erroneous interpretation of subglacial conditions from bed echo strengths alone . Recently developed analysis techniques for radar sounding data have overcome this challenge by taking advantage of information in the angular distribution of bed echo energy and joint modeling of radar returns and water routing. We have developed similar approaches to analyze the spatial pattern and character of echoes to address the problems of improved characterization of grounding zone geometry and englacial attenuation.

The spatial signal of the transition from an ice-bed interface to an ice-ocean interface is an increase in bed echo strength. However, rapidly changing attenuation near the grounding zone prevents the unambiguous interpretation of this signal in typical echo strength profiles and violates the assumptions of existing empirical attenuation correction techniques. We present a technique that treat bed echoes as continuous signals to take advantage of along-profile ice thickness and echo strength variations to constrain the spatial pattern of attenuation and detect the grounding zone transition.

The transition from an ice-bed interface to an ice-ocean interface will also result in a change in the processes that determine basal interface morphology (e.g. melt/freeze processes for floating ice vs. erosion/deformation processes for grounded ice). This morphology change will be expressed in the angular distribution and coherency of bed echo energy. We also present techniques that exploit this character of bed echoes to further improve the detection and characterization of grounding zones.