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Modeling biases in laser-altimetry measurements caused by scattering of green light in snow

Smith, Benjamin E., Gardner, Alex, Schneider, Adam, Flanner, Mark
Remote sensing of environment 2018 v.215 pp. 398-410
green light, ice, lasers, models, photons, reflectance, remote sensing, satellites, snow, uncertainty, wavelengths
Laser altimetry offers the potential to monitor ice-sheet elevation changes with millimeter accuracy. While previous missions have used infrared lasers to make these measurements, NASA's upcoming ICESat (Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite)-2 mission will use a green laser. Because ice absorbs green light very weakly, in the absence of light-absorbing impurities, green photons can scatter off many snow grains before returning to the surface, delaying the return pulse and leading to an apparent downward shift in the snow surface. In this paper, we explore the effects of snow-grain size and impurity content on these measurements, and investigate strategies that might help minimize the biases they introduce. We find that an uninformed choice of measurement parameters (a windowed mean including a large range of photons around the surface) can result in >0.45 m of apparent surface-height variation between large and small grain sizes. Other choices of measurement parameters, such as a windowed median, can reduce this uncertainty by a factor of two to three. In addition, measurements of surface reflectance at green and infrared wavelengths, and interpretation of return-pulse shapes may be used to estimate and correct for these biases.