Helicopter-borne radar imaging of snow cover on and around glaciers in Alaska

Abstract: 
During spring 2013, we performed 500 MHz, helicopter-borne impulsive ground-penetrating radar surveys of several glaciers and glacier forelands in south-central Alaska, USA. These surveys were designed to obtain spatially distributed measurements of snow accumulation spanning a broad range of continental and maritime climatic zones. Visual assessment of radar images shows that data quality varied with the terrains and was optimal for snow that covered smooth glacier ice and firn, smooth debris-covered areas and moraines, freshwater lake and river ice, tundra, and taiga. Conversely, returns from the base of the snowpack were unrecognizable over rough debris-covered glacier termini, icefalls and some high-altitude accumulation basins. Optimal flying speed was 15–20 ms–1 (30–40 kt). At these speeds, which are two to three times faster than previously reported for such surveys, we could still identify snow-depth data with confidence, at a point spacing of ∼1.5–2.0 m. Data quality on glaciers decreased with increased air speed, though useful echoes from the base of the snowpack were still obtained at 40–45 ms–1 (87 kt; data point spacing of 6–8 m). Similar high-speed surveys over non-glacial terrains were unsuccessful, as basal reflections were no longer recognizable.
Authors: 
Gusmeroli, A., G. J. Wolken, A. A. Arendt
Year: 
2014
Journal: 
Annals of Glaciology