04 Oct 2023
 | 04 Oct 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Sentinel-1 detection of perennial firn aquifers in the Antarctic Peninsula

Lena G. Buth, Valeria Di Biase, Peter Kuipers Munneke, Stef Lhermitte, Sanne B. M. Veldhuijsen, Sophie de Roda Husman, Michiel R. van den Broeke, and Bert Wouters

Abstract. In recent years, the existence of perennial firn aquifers in the Antarctic Peninsula (AP) has been confirmed by in situ observations. Previous studies have suggested that these subsurface aquifers, together with meltwater ponds at the surface, provide a reservoir of liquid water to feed propagating fractures, promoting hydrofracture-driven ice-shelf disintegration. This study maps perennial firn aquifers in the AP from space using C-band Synthetic Aperture Radar imagery from ESA's Sentinel-1 (S1) mission. With these observations, we detect firn aquifers at 1 km × 1 km resolution, for the period 2017 to 2020. Existing methods, that use S1 data and rely on a backscatter intensity difference threshold approach, are prone to misclassify late-melt events as aquifers, when applied to the AP. Therefore, we have developed and evaluated a new approach that is better suited to the Antarctic environment. The new method exploits the characteristic, gradual backscatter increase during the (partial) refreezing of the liquid water in the firn layer after the peak of the melt season. Most firn aquifers are detected in the north and northwest of the AP, as well as on the Wilkins and George VI ice shelves. Aquifer locations detected with the present methodology agree with in situ observations and with model simulations of firn water content.

Lena G. Buth et al.

Status: open (until 03 Jan 2024)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-2000', Anonymous Referee #1, 31 Oct 2023 reply
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-2000', Anonymous Referee #2, 07 Nov 2023 reply

Lena G. Buth et al.

Lena G. Buth et al.


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Short summary
Liquid meltwater which is stored in air bubbles in the compacted snow near the surface of Antarctica can affect ice shelf stability. In order to detect the presence of such firn aquifers over large scales, satellite remote sensing is needed. In this paper, we present our new detection method using radar satellite data as well as the results for the whole Antarctic Peninsula. Firn aquifers are found in the north and northwest of the peninsula, in agreement with locations predicted by models.