Geosat-altimeter wave forms from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are analyzed using an algorithm based upon a combined surface-and volume-scattering model. The results demonstrate that sub-surface volume-scattering occurs over major parts of the ice sheets. Quantitative estimates of geographic variations in the near-surface ice-sheet properties are derived by retracking individual altimeter wave forms. The derived surface properties correlate with elevation, latitude and microwave brightness-temperature data. Specifically, the extinction coefficient of snow obtained by this method varies from 0.48 to 0.13 m−1 over the latitudes from 65° to 72°N on the central part of the Greenland ice sheet and from 0.20 to 0.10 m−1 over a section of Wilkes Land in East Antarctica where the elevation increases from 2550 to 3150 m.
Analysis of passive-microwave data over East Antarctica shows that the brightness temperature increases with elevation as the extinction coefficient decreases. Larger snow grain-sizes occur at lower elevations of the ice sheet because of higher mean annual temperatures. The larger grain-sizes increase the extinction coefficient of snow and decrease the emitted energy (brightness temperature) from greater snow depths. The passive-microwave data are also used to determine the average number of melt d year−1 (1979–87) for the central part of the Greenland ice sheet. For latitudes from 65° to 68.5° N, the average number of melt days decreases from 3.5 to 0.25 d year, whereas no melt events are observed for latitudes above 69°N over the 8 year period. Snow subjected to alternate melting and freezing has enhanced grain-sizes compared to that of dry snow. This accounts for the larger values and larger spatial variations of k
e on the Greenland ice sheet compared to East Antarctica, where surface temperatures are never high enough to cause surface melting.