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R. Kwok, T. Markus, J. Morison, S. P. Palm, T. A. Neumann, K. M. Brunt, W. B. Cook, D. W. Hancock, and G. F. Cunningham

Abstract

The sole instrument on the upcoming Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat-2) altimetry mission is a micropulse lidar that measures the time of flight of individual photons from laser pulses transmitted at 532 nm. Prior to launch, the Multiple Altimeter Beam Experimental Lidar (MABEL) serves as an airborne implementation for testing and development. This paper provides a first examination of MABEL data acquired on two flights over sea ice in April 2012: one north of the Arctic coast of Greenland and the other in the east Greenland Sea. The phenomenology of photon distributions in the sea ice returns is investigated. An approach to locate the surface and estimate its elevation in the distributions is described, and its achievable precision is assessed. Retrieved surface elevations over relatively flat leads in the ice cover suggest that precisions of several centimeters are attainable. Restricting the width of the elevation window used in the surface analysis can mitigate potential biases in the elevation estimates due to subsurface returns at 532 nm. Comparisons of nearly coincident elevation profiles from MABEL with those acquired by an analog lidar show good agreement. Discrimination of ice and open water, a crucial step in the determination of sea ice freeboard and the estimation of ice thickness, is facilitated by contrasts in the observed signal–background photon statistics. Future flight paths will sample a broader range of seasonal ice conditions for further evaluation of the year-round profiling capabilities and limitations of the MABEL instrument.

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