Estimating melt onset over Arctic sea ice from time series multi-sensor Sentinel-1 and RADARSAT-2 backscatter
Information on the timing of melt onset over sea ice is important for understanding the Arctic's changing climate. The daily temporal resolution of passive microwave brightness temperatures provides the most widely utilized observations to detect melt onset but are limited to a spatial resolution of 25 km. Wide-swath synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery provides a much higher spatial resolution (20–100 m) but melt onset detection remains challenging because of i) insufficient temporal resolution to facilitate accurate melt onset detection, ii) inconsistent viewing geometries and iii) limited image availability across the Arctic. Here, we construct high temporal resolution composite gamma nought backscatter products (1 day, 1–2 day and 2–4 day) using Sentinel-1 and RADARSAT-2 over a close-to-seamless revisit region located in northern Canadian Arctic and Greenland for estimating melt onset over Arctic sea ice in 2016 and 2017. We employ the necessary radiometric terrain flattening and local resolution weighting techniques to generate normalised backscatter over the entire study region, removing restrictions limiting analysis to a single sensor or track's swath width by integrating both ascending and descending passes into the composite products. Results indicate that higher temporal resolution multi-sensor composite gamma nought products (1 day) that make use of the most imagery provide a robust temporal evolution of the backscatter. This allows for more representative estimates of melt onset as it is easier to separate the melt onset threshold from winter variability that is otherwise a considerable challenge for SAR based melt onset algorithms because of inconsistent temporal resolution. Multi-sensor composite gamma naught melt onset detection is in good agreement with melt onset estimates derived from the Advance Scatterometer (ASCAT) backscatter values and passive microwave brightness temperatures over homogenous sea ice regions but very noticeable improvement was found within narrow channels and regions with more heterogeneous sea ice. In anticipation of the availability of data from even more SAR satellites with the launch of the RADARSAT Constellation Mission, the multi-sensor composite gamma nought approach presented here may offer the most robust approach to estimate the timing of melt onset over sea ice across the Arctic using high spatiotemporal resolution SAR.