In order to interpret changes in the Greenland ice sheet as indications of climatic variation, it is necessary to place observations of local changes in a regional context. This requires a comprehensive monitoring effort which addresses both the inland ice and changes in the ice margin. This paper describes the design of a program for regional investigation of the Greenland ice sheet using synthetic aperture radar (SAR), and discusses the utility of SAR data for detection of change in the ice sheet margin.
Comprehensive coverage of the Greenland ice sheet by ERS-1 SAR will allow us to map the boundaries of snow facies on the ice sheet and investigate recent changes in the ice margin. We will use geo-referenced images to map the current boundaries of snow facies, providing a baseline which can be used to detect future change.
We demonstrate the utility of SAR for detecting recent changes in the ice margin. SAR images clearly show the ice edge, moraines, and ice marginal lakes. These features can be compared with published maps and earlier images in order to document changes in the margin of the ice sheet. We show evidence for recession of a section of the western margin of the ice sheet. The recession, which occurred between 1938 and 1978, ranges from a few hundred meters at high elevations to several kilometers at calving faces in both ice marginal lakes and fjords.
ERS-1 SAR will provide the first opportunity to pursue a comprehensive investigation of the state of the Greenland ice sheet. The ability to address conditions on the ice and to look at margin changes in a systematic way will allow us to develop a stronger framework for interpreting changes in the ice sheet in terms of climatic variation.