Remote Sensing of Ice Sheet Mass Balance in Antarctica
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree LevelPostgraduate Certificate
Degree NamePostgraduate Certificate in Antarctic Studies
Technological advances in the twentieth century have enabled scientists to undertake research on virtually every location on the Earth. Parallel advances in space technology have provided a rapidly increasing number of satellite platforms that can be used to study complex physical processes in the Earth-atmosphere system. Remote sensing is the small or large-scale acquisition of information of an object or phenomenon in a given area by the use of recording devices that are not in physical contact with the object or area of interest, such as aircraft or satellite. The basis of remote sensing is the electromagnetic spectrum. Satellite remote sensing often permits real time, year round and long-term study. Remote sensing has greatly improved mass balance estimates of ice sheets and glaciers in Antarctica. Mass balance is the difference between accumulation and ablation of mass on an ice sheet or glacier over a time period. There are three ways to measure the mass balance of an ice sheet: the mass-budget method, the volume method, and the geodetic method. The significant development of Synthetic Radar Altimetry (SAR) has allowed the measurement of surface height in the mass-budget method. The volume method uses satellite radar altimetry to measure changes in surface elevation of ice sheets. The geodetic method is an emerging approach that exploits gravity and holds huge potential for the future. This review will focus on these three methods. Although these methods have made dramatic improvements on mass balance estimates over the last decade, each method still has limitations. Mass balance products of remote sensing are important because they assist in interpretation and analysis of global change (Konig et al., 2001). In the field of glaciology, remote sensing has proven to be a particularly useful tool because areas of interest are often inaccessible, such as those at high latitudes in Antarctica. Other physical characteristics of Antarctica that have limitations on ground based point measurements include: climatic extremes, the large spatial coverage, environmental sensitivity, the polar ‘night’ and the continent’s natural resources.
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