Differential interferometric synthetic aperture radar for tide modelling in Antarctic ice-shelf grounding zones

Differential interferometric synthetic aperture radar (DInSAR) is an essential tool for detecting ice-sheet motion near Antarctica's oceanic margin. These space-borne measurements have been used extensively in the past to map the location and retreat of ice-shelf grounding lines as an indicator for the onset of marine ice-sheet instability and to calculate the mass balance of ice sheets and individual catchments. The main difficulty in interpreting DInSAR is that images originate from a combination of several SAR images and do not indicate instantaneous ice deflection at the times of satellite data acquisitions. Here, we combine the sub-centimetre accuracy and spatial benefits of DInSAR with the temporal benefits of tide models to infer the spatio-temporal dynamics of ice–ocean interaction during the times of satellite overpasses. We demonstrate the potential of this synergy with TerraSAR-X data from the almost-stagnant southern McMurdo Ice Shelf (SMIS). We then validate our algorithm with GPS data from the fast-flowing Darwin Glacier, draining the Antarctic Plateau through the Transantarctic Mountains into the Ross Sea. We are able to reconstruct DInSAR-derived vertical displacements to 7 mm mean absolute residual error and generally improve traditional tide-model output by up to 39 % from 10.8 to 6.7 cm RMSE against GPS data from areas where ice is in local hydrostatic equilibrium with the ocean and by up to 74 % from 21.4 to 5.6 cm RMSE against GPS data in feature-rich coastal areas where tide models have not been applicable before. Numerical modelling then reveals Young's modulus of E=1.0±0.56 GPa and an ice viscosity of ν=10±3.65 TPa s when finite-element simulations of tidal flexure are matched to 16 d of tiltmeter data, supporting the hypothesis that strain-dependent anisotropy may significantly decrease effective viscosity compared to isotropic polycrystalline ice on large spatial scales. Applications of our method include the following: refining coarsely gridded tide models to resolve small-scale features at the spatial resolution and vertical accuracy of SAR imagery, separating elastic and viscoelastic contributions in the satellite-derived flexure measurement, and gaining information about large-scale ice heterogeneity in Antarctic ice-shelf grounding zones, the missing key to improving current ice-sheet flow models. The reconstruction of the individual components forming DInSAR images has the potential to become a standard remote-sensing method in polar tide modelling. Unlocking the algorithm's full potential to answer multi-disciplinary research questions is desired and demands collaboration within the scientific community.


Publication status:
Authors: Wild, Christian T., Marsh, Oliver J., Rack, Wolfgang

On this site: Oliver Marsh
29 November, 2019
The Cryosphere / 13
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