Skip to main content Accessibility help

Light propagation in firn: application to borehole video

  • T.J. Fudge (a1) and Benjamin E. Smith (a2)


Borehole optical stratigraphy (BOS) is a borehole video system and processing routine for investigating polar firn. BOS records brightness variations in the firn and is effective at identifying stratigraphic markers. BOS brightness logs have been used to count annual layers and measure vertical strain, even though a specific cause of the brightness variations has not been determined. Here we combine two models of light transport to examine potential errors with BOS and identify improvements which will allow the system to estimate optical grain size. We use a Monte Carlo radiative transfer model to estimate the influence of firn microstructure variations on borehole reflectance. We then use a ray-tracing algorithm to model the multiple reflections within the borehole that cause measured brightness variations. Multiple reflections cause the brightness measured at a point on the borehole wall to not necessarily be equal to the local wall reflectance. The ray tracing further shows that wall imperfections or variations in the camera position can produce brightness variations that are unrelated to changes in firn properties. Smooth walls and good stabilization of the camera help ensure that brightness variations result from variations in firn properties, and thus are a measure of firn stratigraphy, rather than artifacts.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Light propagation in firn: application to borehole video
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Light propagation in firn: application to borehole video
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Light propagation in firn: application to borehole video
      Available formats



Hide All
Alley, R.B. and 11 others. 1997. Visual-stratigraphic dating of the GISP2 ice core: basis, reproducibility, and application. J. Geophys. Res., 102(C12), 26,36726,382.
Baker, I., Obbard, R., Iliescu, D. and Meese, D.. 2007. Microstructural characterization of firn. Hydrol. Process., 21(12), 16241629.
Bay, R., Price, P., Clow, G. and Gow, A.. 2001. Climate logging with a new rapid optical technique at Siple Dome. Geophys. Res. Lett., 28(24), 46354638.
Bertler, N.A.N. and 53 others. 2005. Snow chemistry across Antarctica. Ann. Glaciol., 41, 167179.
Bohren, C.F. 1987. Multiple scattering of light and some of its observable consequences. Am. J. Phys., 55(6), 524533.
Bramall, N.E., Bay, R.C., Woschnagg, K., Rohde, R.A. and Price, P.B.. 2005. A deep high-resolution optical log of dust, ash, and stratigraphy in South Pole glacial ice. Geophys. Res. Lett., 32(21), L21815. (10.1029/2005GL024236.)
Casa, R. and Jones, H.G.. 2005. LAI retrieval from multiangular image classification and inversion of a ray tracing model. Remote Sens. Environ., 98(4), 414428.
Cuffey, K.M. 2008. Climate change: a matter of firn. Science, 320(5883), 15961597.
Dominé, F. and Shepson, P.B.. 2002. Air–snow interactions and atmospheric chemistry. Science, 297(5586), 15061510.
Dozier, J., Schneider, S.R. and McGinnis, D.F. Jr. 1981. Effect of grain size and snowpack water equivalence on visible and near-infrared satellite observations of snow. Water Resour. Res., 17(4), 12131221.
Freitag, J., Wilhelms, F. and Kipfstuhl, S.. 2004. Microstructure-dependent densification of polar firn derived from X-ray microtomography. J. Glaciol., 50(169), 243250.
Fu, Q. and Sun, W.. 2001. Mie theory for light scattering by a spherical particle in an absorbing medium. Appl. Opt., 40(9), 13541361.
Goral, C.M., Torrance, K.E., Greenberg, D.P. and Battaile, B.. 1984. Modeling the interaction of light between diffuse surfaces. Comput. Graph., 18(3), 213222.
Grenfell, T.C. and Warren, S.G.. 1999. Representation of a nonspherical ice particle by a collection of independent spheres for scattering and absorption of radiation. J. Geophys. Res., 104(D24), 31,69731,709.
Hansen, J.E. 1971. Multiple scattering of polarized light in planetary atmospheres. Part I. The doubling method. J. Atmos. Sci., 28(1), 120125.
Hawley, R.L. and Morris, E.M.. 2006. Borehole optical stratigraphy and neutron-scattering density measurements at Summit, Greenland. J. Glaciol., 52(179), 491496.
Hawley, R.L., Waddington, E.D., Alley, R.A. and Taylor, K.C.. 2003. Annual layers in polar firn detected by borehole optical stratigraphy. Geophys. Res. Lett., 30(15), 1788. (10.1029/2003GL017675.)
Hawley, R.L., Morris, E.M. and McConnell, J.R.. 2008. Rapid techniques for determining annual accumulation applied at Summit, Greenland. J. Glaciol., 54(188), 839845. (10.3189/002214308787779951.)
Helsen, M.M. and 7 others. 2008. Elevation changes in Antarctica mainly determined by accumulation variability. Science, 320(5883), 16261629.
Henyey, L.C. and Greenstein, J.L.. 1941. Diffuse radiation in the galaxy. J. Astrophys., 93, 7083.
Hörhold, M.W., Albert, M.R. and Freitag, J.. 2009. The impact of accumulation rate on anisotropy and air permeability of polar firn at a high-accumulation site. J. Glaciol., 55(192), 625630.
Hudson, S.R., Warren, S.G., Brandt, R.E., Grenfell, T.C. and Six, D.. 2006. Spectral bidirectional reflectance of Antarctic snow: measurements and parameterization. J. Geophys. Res., 111(D18), D18106. (10.1029/2006JD007290.)
Kaspari, S. and 6 others. 2004. Climate variability in West Antarctica derived from annual accumulation-rate records from ITASE firn/ice cores. Ann. Glaciol., 39, 585594.
LaChapelle, E.R. 1992. Field guide to snow crystals. Cambridge, International Glaciological Society.
Lagouarde, J.-P. and 6 others. 2010. Modelling daytime thermal infrared directional anisotropy over Toulouse city centre. Remote Sens. Environ., 114(1), 87105.
Matzl, M. and Schneebeli, M.. 2006. Measuring specific surface area of snow by near-infrared photography. J. Glaciol., 52(179), 558564.
Morris, E.M. and Cooper, J.D.. 2003. Density measurements in ice boreholes using neutron scattering. J. Glaciol., 49(167), 599604.
Mullen, P.E. and Warren, S.G.. 1988. Theory of the optical properties of lake ice. J. Geophys. Res., 93(D7), 84038414.
Petty, G.W. 2006. A first course in atmospheric physics. Second edition. Madison, WI, Sundog Publishing.
Prahl, S.A. 1988. Light transport in tissue. (PhD thesis, University of Texas, Austin.)
Pritchard, H.D., Arthern, R.J., Vaughan, D.G. and Edwards, L.A.. 2009. Extensive dynamic thinning on the margins of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Nature, 461(7266), 971975.
Schwander, J., Sowers, T., Barnola, J.M., Blunier, T., Fuchs, A. and Malaizé, B.. 1997. Age scale of the air in the Summit ice: implication for glacial–interglacial temperature change. J. Geophys. Res., 102(D16), 19,48319,493.
Van den Broeke, M., van de Berg, W.J. and van Meijgaard, E.. 2006. Snowfall in coastal West Antarctica much greater than previously assumed. Geophys. Res. Lett., 33(2), L02505. (10.1029/2005GL025239.)
Warren, S.G. 1982. Optical properties of snow. Rev. Geophys., 20(1), 6789.
Warren, S.G. and Brandt, R.E.. 2008. Optical constants of ice from the ultraviolet to the microwave: a revised compilation. J. Geophys. Res., 113(D14), D14220. (10.1029/2007JD009744.)
Warren, and Wiscombe, W.J.. 1980. A model for the spectral albedo of snow. II. Snow containing atmospheric aerosols. J. Atmos. Sci., 37(12), 27342745.
Warren, S.G., Brandt, R.E. and Grenfell, T.C.. 2006. Visible and near-ultraviolet absorption spectrum of ice from transmission of solar radiation into snow. Appl. Opt., 45(21), 53205334.
Wiscombe, W.J. and Warren, S.G.. 1980. A model for the spectral albedo of snow. I. Pure snow. J. Atmos. Sci., 37(12), 27122733.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Glaciology
  • ISSN: 0022-1430
  • EISSN: 1727-5652
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-glaciology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed