Spatial and temporal differences in surface and subsurface meltwater distribution over Greenland ice sheet using multi-frequency passive microwave observations

Andreas Colliander, Mohammad Mousavi, John S. Kimball, Julie Z. Miller, Mariko Burgin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Increasingly larger portions of the Greenland ice sheet are undergoing seasonal melting-refreeze cycles due to global climate warming. The cycle begins with the arrival of high temperatures and increased solar radiation in the spring and summer seasons generating meltwater on the ice sheet's surface. Meltwater percolates to deeper ice layers, either refreezing within the firn, creating longer-term meltwater pockets (firn aquifers), or generating peripheral runoff. Depending on the location and climate, the refreeze duration, the depth of infiltration, and meltwater persistence are temporally and spatially complex. Our recent study showed that multi-frequency passive microwave measurements in the 1.4 GHz to 36.5 GHz range effectively distinguished seasonal meltwater between the immediate surface and deeper firn layers at an experiment site in the accumulation zone of the southwestern Greenland ice sheet. Here, we further explored the vertically and horizontally polarized multi-frequency melt response at the pan-Greenland scale. We employed 1.4 GHz brightness temperature (TB) measurements from the NASA Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite and 6.9, 10.7, 18.9, and 36.5 GHz TB measurements from the JAXA Global Change Observation Mission-Water Shizuku (GCOM-W) satellite. The results show that the frequency-dependent response was consistent across the ice sheet. The multi-frequency melt indications match with lasting seasonal subsurface meltwater with delayed refreezing compared to the surface. These results suggest persistent seasonal subsurface meltwater occurrences that are spatially and temporally significant but concealed from the high-frequency observations. Retrieving the meltwater evolution in snow and firn presents a complex problem; this work represents an initial step toward developing an ice-sheet-wide algorithm for more comprehensive retrieval of the meltwater profile.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113705
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - Sep 1 2023


This work was performed at thte Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (80NSSC18K0980 & 80NM0018F0585). The Greenland maps were generated with the assistance of the Arctic Mapping Tools (Greene et al. 2017).

FundersFunder number
National Aeronautics and Space Administration80NSSC18K0980, 80NM0018F0585


    • Firn
    • Ice sheet
    • Melt
    • Snow


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