IceBridge Sander AIRGrav L3 Bathymetry

This data set contains bathymetry of Antarctic ice shelves based on measurements from the Sander Geophysics Airborne Inertially Referenced Gravimeter (AIRGrav) system. The data were collected as part of Operation IceBridge funded aircraft survey campaigns.

Table of Contents

  1. Contacts and Acknowledgments
  2. Detailed Data Description
  3. Data Access and Tools
  4. Data Acquisition and Processing
  5. References and Related Publications
  6. Document Information

Citing These Data

As a condition of using this data, you must cite the use of this data set using the following citation. For more information, see our Use and Copyright Web page.

Cochran, J.R., K. J. Tinto, and R. E. Bell. 2011. IceBridge Sander AIRGrav L3 Bathymetry, [indicate subset used]. Boulder, Colorado USA: NASA DAAC at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.





Sander AIRGrav

Spatial Coverage

Antarctica ice shelves

Spatial Resolution


Temporal Coverage

October 2009 to the present

Temporal Resolution




Data Format

ASCII text

Metadata Access

View Metadata Record

Get Data



1. Contacts and Acknowledgments

Investigator(s) Name and Title

James R. Cochran, Robin E. Bell, Kirsteen Tinto
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
109C Oceanography
61 Route 9W - PO Box 1000
Palisades, New York 10964-8000 USA

Technical Contact

NSIDC User Services
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado
Boulder, CO 80309-0449  USA
phone: +1 303.492.6199
fax: +1 303.492.2468
form: Contact NSIDC User Services


Data collection was supported by NASA grants NNX09AR49G, NNG10HP20C, and NNX10AT69G. We thank Stefen Elieff, Kevin Charles, Marianne McLeish, Joel Dube, Eric Seme, Sean O'Rourke, Eric Renaud, John Drolet and Craig McMahon from Sander Geophysics.

2. Detailed Data Description


The IceBridge Sander AIRGrav L3 Bathymetry data files are ASCII text XYZ grid files.

See the IceBridge Sander AIRGrav L4 Bathymetry data set for CSV data files of Arctic fjords and Antarctic ice shelves bathymetry based on measurements from the Sander Geophysics Airborne Inertially Referenced Gravimeter (AIRGrav) system.

File and Directory Structure

Data are available on the FTP site in the /SAN2/ICEBRIDGE_FTP/ directory. Within this directory, there are data subdirectories as shown in Figure 1.

directory structure

Figure 1. Directory Structure

File Naming Convention

The bathymetry data files have the naming convention shown below. File name variables are described in Table 1.


Table 1. Gravity Data File Naming Convention
Variable Description
name Glacier or ice shelf name, e.g. Larsen, Thwaites
bathy Indicates bathymetry data
.xyz Indicates ASCII text x, y, z data file

File Size

Files range from 290 KB to 673 KB.


The entire data set is approximately 1 MB.

Spatial Coverage

Spatial coverage for the IceBridge Sander AIRGrav L3 Bathymetry data includes Antarctic areas.

Southernmost Latitude: 90° S
Northernmost Latitude: 53° S
Westernmost Longitude: 180° W
Easternmost Longitude: 180° E

Note: See the IceBridge Sander AIRGrav L4 Bathymetry data set for bathymetry of Arctic ice shelves based on measurements from the Sander Geophysics Airborne Inertially Referenced Gravimeter (AIRGrav) system.

Spatial Resolution

The survey over Thwaites Ice Shelf was flown as a series of parallel lines, 10 km apart, approximately perpendicular to the grounding line. Data with high horizontal accelerations due to aircraft maneuvers were excluded from the dataset. Free-air anomalies were filtered with a 70 s full wavelength filter, resulting in approximately 4.9 km half-wavelength resolution for a typical flying speed of 140 m/s (Tinto and Bell 2011).

For the survey over Larsen Ice Shelf, the spacing of north-south airborne gravity lines is generally about 20 km, while the spacing of east-west lines ranges from 15-50 km. The line spacing and the survey design limit the granularity of the gravity field and impact the spatial resolution of the final bathymetry model (Cochran and Bell 2012).

Projection and Grid Description

Thwaites Grid: 1 km grid spacing
Larsen Grid: 2 km grid spacing
Projection: Polar Stereographic true at 71 S, 0 up, 180 down, WGS-84 ellipsoid (EPSG 3031)

Temporal Coverage

These data were collected as part of Operation IceBridge funded campaigns from October 2009 to the present.

Temporal Resolution

IceBridge campaigns are conducted on an annual repeating basis. Arctic and Greenland campaigns are conducted during March, April, and May; and Antarctic campaigns are conducted during October and November.

Parameter or Variable

The IceBridge Sander AIRGrav L3 Bathymetry data set contains location in Polar Stereographic easting and northing, and bathymetry measured positively downwards.

Parameter Description

The bathymetry data files contain fields as described in Table 2.

Table 2. Parameter Description and Units
Column Description Units
1 Antarctic Polar Stereographic Easting Meters
2 Antarctic Polar Stereographic Northing Meters
3 Bathymetry Meters

Sample Data Record

Below are the first ten records of the data file. The fields in each record correspond to the columns described in Table 2.

sample data record

3. Data Access and Tools

Get Data

Data are available via FTP.

Software and Tools

The data files may be opened by any ASCII text reader.

4. Data Acquisition and Processing

Theory of Measurements

The gravity signal is extracted from an inertially based system in which a small mass is suspended within a magnetic field. Tiny variations in the acceleration of the gravimeter produce small electrical signals in the sensor as the mass moves within the magnetic field. The processed data from the AIRGrav instrument data consists of two data types: gravity and aircraft attitude.

Data Acquisition Methods

The gravimeter is located as near the airplane center of mass as possible. Simultaneously acquired gravimeter output GPS data are recorded on hard disks on the plane. Following the flight this data is downloaded onto a PC for processing.

Derivation Techniques and Algorithms

Inversion of the gravity data for bathymetric relief on the continental shelf underlying the Larsen Ice Shelf was carried out using the Parker-Oldenburg technique (Oldenburg, 1974). The Parker-Oldenburg inversion was employed in the form of a MATrix LABoratory (MATLAB) script that utilizes a grid of gravity anomalies as the input (Gomez-Ortiz and Agarwal 2005). In order to avoid potential artifacts in less constrained areas, the grid of depths resulting from the inversion was sampled at gravity measurement points and these values were then regridded.

At Thwaites glacier, inversion was performed on 2D profiles using the technique of Talwani, 1959 in the GM-SYS gravity and magnetic modelling software.

Processing Steps

The following processing steps are performed by the data provider.

For all bathymetry data sets:

  1. The gravimeter data were filtered and decimated to 10 Hz to match the GPS data.
  2. GPS-derived accelerations were subtracted from the data.
  3. The gravity was corrected for the Eötvös effect.
  4. The expected gravity at the measurement latitude was subtracted.
  5. The resulting anomalies were decimated to 2 Hz and low-pass filtered to suppress noise.
  6. The free-air correction was applied.
  7. After evaluating the noise level with different filter lengths, a 70 s filter was used. The filter half-wavelength is approximately 5 km at the average flight speed of 275 knots (142 m/s). Features narrower than the half wavelength can be resolved, but have an attenuated amplitude.
  8. Horizontal accelerations associated with turns and other vigorous maneuvers disturb gravity measurements. A routine that examines horizontal accelerations was used to divide each flight into lines that are free of these perturbations.
For the Larsen data ( (Cochran and Bell 2012):
  1. The marine free-air gravity data were gridded, upward-continued to the elevation of the Operation IceBridge flights over Larsen C and the upward-continued grid was resampled at the original measurement locations.
  2. The combined airborne and upward continued marine data set was gridded on a 2 km grid.
  3. The gridded data set was inverted for bathymetry using the Parker-Oldenburg technique.
  4. To avoid artifacts, the grid of bathymetry data was sampled at the locations of the gravity data points and then regridded.

For the Thwaites data ( (Tinto and Bell 2011):

  1. A forward model of gravity was generated according to Talwani, 1959 with ice density 0.915 g/cc, water density 1.028 g/cc and rock density 2.67 g/cc. Ice surface and base are taken from the NASA Airborne Topographic Mapper (ATM) (Krabill 2010) and the CReSIS Multichannel Coherent Radar Depth Sounder (MCoRDS) (Allen 2009).
  2. The model was pinned at a point where ice is grounded and nearby gravity variations are due only to variations in topography of the ice/rock interface.
  3. A gravity inversion was performed on the water/rock interface under floating ice. This produces a model of the sub-ice shelf bathymetry responsible for the gravity anomaly.
  4. 2D inversion results were gridded to produce a bathymetry map.

Error Sources

Errors are approximated as ±70 m for the Thwaites dataset, incorporating errors in gravity measurement, radar ice thickness, ATM surface elevation, 2D model pinning point and some allowance for geological structures. The model assumes the absence of sea floor sediments. If sea floor sediments are present the true bathymetry will be less deep than the model (Tinto and Bell 2011).

Errors are estimated to be about ±50 meters for the Larsen survey, based on sensitivity to possible errors in density and the mean depth of the continental shelf. The depths at the bottom of troughs extending across the continental shelf may be overestimated as much as 100 m due to the presence of low density sediments (Cochran and Bell 2012).

Sensor or Instrument Description

The gravity instrument is a Sander AIRGrav designed for airborne applications. The AIRGrav system consists of a three-axis gyro-stabilized, Schuler-tuned inertial platform on which three orthogonal accelerometers are mounted. The primary gravity sensor is the vertical accelerometer that is held within 10 arc-seconds (0.0028 degree) of the local vertical by the inertial platform, monitored through the complex interaction of gyroscopes and two horizontal accelerometers (Sander et al. 2004). An advantage of the AIRGrav system over other airborne gravimeters is that it has been shown to be capable of collecting high-quality data during draped flights (Studinger et al. 2008). The gravimeter records accelerations arising from variations in the Earth's gravity field and accelerations experienced by the airplane. These accelerations are recorded at 128 Hz. Aircraft accelerations are obtained utilizing differential GPS measurements.

5. References and Related Publications

Allen, Chris. 2009, updated current year. IceBridge MCoRDS L2 Ice Thickness. Boulder, Colorado USA: NASA Distributed Active Archive Center at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Digital media.

Cochran, J. R., S. S. Jacobs, K. J. Tinto, and R. E. Bell. 2014. Bathymetric and Oceanic Controls on Abbot Ice Shelf Thickness and Stability, The Cryosphere, 8:877-889. doi:10.5194/tc-8-877-2014.

Cochran, J. R. and R. E. Bell. 2012. Inversion of IceBridge Gravity Data for Continental Shelf Bathymetry Beneath the Larsen Ice Shelf. Journal of Glaciology, 58(209):540-552(13).

Gomez-Ortiz, D. and B. Agarwal. 2005. 3DINVER.M: A MATLAB Program to Invert the Gravity Anomaly Over a 3D Horizontal Density Interface by Parker-Oldenburg's Algorithm, Computers & Geosciences, 31(4): 513-520. doi:10.1016/jcageo.2004.1011.1004.

Krabill, William B. 2010, updated current year. IceBridge ATM L2 Icessn Elevation, Slope, and Roughness. Boulder, Colorado USA: NASA Distributed Active Archive Center at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Digital media.

Oldenburg, D. W. 1974. The Inversion and Interpretation of Gravity Anomalies, Geophysics, 39: 536-536.

Sander, S., M. Argyle, S. Elieff, S. Ferguson, V. Lavoie, and L. Sander. 2004. The AIRGrav Airborne Gravity System, in Airborne Gravity 2004 - Australian Society of Exploration Geophysicists Workshop, edited by R. Lane, pp. 49-53, Geoscience Australia,

Studinger, M., R. E. Bell, and N. Frearson. 2008. Comparison of AIRGrav and GT-1A Airborne Gravimeters for Research Applications, Geophysics, 73: 151-161.

Talwani, Manik, J. Lamar Worzel, and Mark Landisman. 1959. Rapid Gravity Computations for Two-dimensional Bodies with Application to the Mendocino Submarine Fracture Zone, Journal of Geophysical Research, 64(1):49-59.

Tinto, K. J., and R. E. Bell. 2011. Progressive Unpinning of Thwaites Glacier from Newly Identified Offshore Ridge: Constraints from Aerogravity, Geophysical Research Letters, 38: L20503. doi:10.1029/2011GL049026.

Related Data Collections

Related Web Sites

  • IceBridge Data Web site at NSIDC (
  • IceBridge Web site at NASA (
  • ICESat/GLAS Web site at NASA Wallops Flight Facility (
  • ICESat/GLAS Web site at NSIDC (

6. Document Information

Acronyms and Abbreviations

The acronyms used in this document are listed in Table 3.

Table 3. Acronyms and Abbreviations
Acronym Description
AIRGrav Airborne Inertially Referenced Gravimeter
ASCII American Standard Code for Information Interchange
ATM Airborne Topographic Mapper
CIRES Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science
CReSIS Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets
EPSG 3031 European Petroleum Survey Group Antarctic Polar Stereographic projection
FTP File Transfer Protocol
GPS Global Positioning System
L3 Processing Level 3
MATLAB MATrix LABoratory
MCoRDS Multichannel Coherent Radar Depth Sounder
NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NSIDC National Snow and Ice Data Center
URL Uniform Resource Locator
UTC Universal Time Code
WGS-84 World Geodetic System 1984

Document Creation Date

11 January 2013

Document Revision Date

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