Radar Response of Firn Exposed to Seasonal Percolation, Validation Using Cores and FDTD Modeling

Ola Brandt, Kirsty Langley, Antonios Giannopoulos, Svein-Erik Hamran, Jack Kohler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

We use ground-penetrating radars (GPRs), firn cores, and electromagnetic finite-difference time-domain (FDTD) numerical modeling to characterize the GPR response to a frozen high-arctic firn pack. As a result of extensive summertime percolation, the firn pack comprises a high fraction of ice layers, lenses, and vertical glands. We show that the GPR response on the firn pack mainly depends on the following: 1) the thickness of the ice layers; 2) the distance between layers; 3) the layer roughness; and 4) the presence or absence of elliptical ice lenses. Using 3-D FDTD modeling, we show that the GPR is not sensitive to typical ice glands, which implies that the GPR underestimates firn heterogeneity, such that firn stratigraphy in percolation and wet-snow zones could be incorrectly interpreted as being better preserved than it actually is. We find that thin ice layers (< 0.05 m) or multiple thin ice layers give a strong response. Thicker ice layers typically give a weaker backscatter per unit area, mainly due to the lack of interference of the reflections from the upper and lower interfaces, but are, due to their continuity, easily trackable. Ice layers with a thickness comparable to the GPR wavelength give 180. phase-shifted upper and lower reflections and are, in general, separated by a band of low GPR response, due to the lack of permittivity contrast within the ice layers. Despite the ice lenses' relatively short horizontal correlation length, as inferred from cores, bands of high-amplitude clutter caused by these features can be traced over several kilometers in GPR profiles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2773-2786
Number of pages14
JournalIEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2009

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Cores
  • firn
  • ground-penetrating radar (GPR)
  • numerical modeling
  • percolation
  • 3-D finite-difference time domain (FDTD)
  • GPR


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