A Facet-Based Numerical Model for Simulating SAR Altimeter Echoes From Heterogeneous Sea Ice Surfaces

Jack C. Landy*, Michel Tsamados, Randall K. Scharien

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)
535 Downloads (Pure)


Cryosat-2 has provided measurements of pan-Arctic sea ice thickness since 2010 with unprecedented spatial coverage and frequency. However, it remains uncertain how the Ku-band radar interacts with the vast range of scatterers that can be present within the satellite footprint, including sea ice with varying physical properties and multiscale roughness, snow cover, and leads. Here, we present a numerical model designed to simulate delay-Doppler synthetic aperture radar (SAR) altimeter echoes from snow-covered sea ice, such as those detected by Cryosat-2. Backscattered echoes are simulated directly from triangular facet-based models of actual sea ice topography generated from Operation IceBridge Airborne Topographic Mapper data, as well as virtual statistical models simulated artificially. We use these waveform simulations to investigate the sensitivity of SAR altimeter echoes to variations in satellite parameters (height, pitch, and roll) and sea ice properties (physical properties, roughness, and presence of water). We show that the conventional Gaussian assumption for sea ice surface roughness may be introducing significant error into the Cryosat-2 waveform retracking process. Compared to a more representative lognormal surface, an echo simulated from a Gaussian surface with rms roughness height of 0.2 m underestimates the ice freeboard by 5 cm--potentially underestimating sea ice thickness by around 50 cm. We present a set of ``ideal'' waveform shape parameters simulated for sea ice and leads to inform existing waveform classification techniques. This model will ultimately be used to improve retrievals of key sea ice properties, including freeboard, surface roughness, and snow depth, from SAR altimeter observations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number8625441
Pages (from-to)4164-4180
Number of pages17
JournalIEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing
Issue number7
Early online date24 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2019


  • Sea surface
  • surface topography
  • rough surfaces
  • surface roughness
  • sea ice
  • numerical models
  • numerical analysis
  • modeling
  • radar altimetry
  • radar scattering
  • snow
  • synthetic aperture radar (SAR)


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