Antarctic ice sheet surface melting can regionally influence ice shelf stability, mass balance, and glacier dynamics, in addition to modulating near-surface physical and chemical properties over wide areas. Here, we investigate variability in surface melting from 1999 to 2009 using radar backscatter time series from the SeaWinds scatterometer aboard the QuikSCAT satellite. These daily, continent-wide observations are explored in concert with in situ meteorological records to validate a threshold-based melt detection method. Radar backscatter decreases during melting are significantly correlated with in situ positive degree-days as well as meltwater production determined from energy balance modeling at Neumayer Station, East Antarctica. These results support the use of scatterometer data as a diagnostic indicator of melt intensity (i.e., the relative liquid water production during melting). Greater spatial and temporal melting detected relative to previous passive microwave-based studies is attributed to a higher sensitivity of the scatterometer instrument. Continental melt intensity variability can be explained in part by the dynamics of the Southern Annular Mode and the Southern Oscillation Index, and extreme melting events across the Ross Ice Shelf region may be associated with El Nio conditions. Furthermore, we find that the Antarctic Peninsula accounts for only 20% of Antarctic melt extent but greater than 50% of the total Antarctic melt intensity. Over most areas, annual melt duration and intensity are proportional. However, regional and localized distinctions exist where the melt intensity metric provides greater insight into melting dynamics than previously obtainable with other remote sensing techniques.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Earth-Surface Processes