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In spring during 2004–07 we conducted ground-penetrating radar (GPR) measurements on the Austfonna ice cap, Svalbard, with the original aim of mapping the thickness and distribution of winter snow. Here, we further exploit the information content of the data and derive a multi-year sequence of glacier-facies distribution that provides valuable spatial information about the total surface mass balance (SMB) of the ice cap, beyond the usually evaluated winter balance. We find that following an initial decrease in the extent of the firn area (2003–04), the firn line lowered within two subsequent years by ∼40–100m elevation in the north and west and 150–230m in the south and east of the ice cap, corresponding to a lateral expansion of the firn area along the profiles by up to 7.3 and 13.3 km, respectively. The growth of the firn area is in line with stake measurements from Etonbreen that indicate a trend towards less negative SMB over the corresponding period.
Winter balance is an important metric for assessing the change on glaciers and ice caps, yet measuring it using ground-based techniques can be challenging. We use the European Space Agency prototype Airborne SAR/Interferometric Radar Altimeter System (ASIRAS) to extract snow depths from the received altimeter waveforms over Austfonna ice cap, Svalbard. Additionally, we attempt to distinguish the long-term firn area from other glacier facies. We validate our results using snow depth and glacier facies characterizations determined from ground-based radar profiles, snow pits and a multi-look satellite synthetic aperture radar image. We show that the depth of the winter snowpack can be extracted from the altimeter data over most of the accumulation zone, comprising wet snow zone and a superimposed ice zone. The method struggles at lower elevations where internal reflections within the winter snowpack are strong and the winter snow depth is less than ∼1 m. We use the abruptness of the reflection from the last summer surface (LSS) to attempt to distinguish glacier facies. While there is a general correlation between LSS abruptness and glacier facies, we do not find a relationship that warrants a distinct classification based on ASIRAS waveforms alone.
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