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Elevation Change of the Southern Greenland Ice Sheet from 1978-88


Southern Greenland ice sheet elevation change estimates are derived from SEASAT and GEOSAT radar altimetry data from 1978 to 1988. Data are confined to 61-72°N, 30-50°W, above 1700 m elevation. The addition of GEOSAT Geodetic Mission (GM) data results in twice as many crossover points and 50% greater coverage than previous studies. Coverage above 2000 m elevation is improved to 90%, and about 75% of the area between 1700 m and 2000 m is now covered. Data are in ASCII text format, available via FTP, and consist of elevation change rate (dH/dt, cm/year) and corresponding error estimates in 50 km grid cells.

Citing These Data

Davis, C., C. Kluever, and B. Haines. 2001. Elevation change of the southern Greenland ice sheet from 1978-1988. Boulder, CO: National Snow and Ice Data Center. Digital media.

We kindly request that you cite the use of this data set in a publication using the following citation example. For more information, see our Use and Copyright Web page.

Overview Table

Category Description
Data format Data are in tab-delimited ASCII text format.
Spatial coverage and resolution Spatial coverage is 61-72°N, 30-50°W. Data were interpolated to 50 km grid cells.
Temporal coverage and resolution 1978-1988
File naming convention JGRdHdtGridData.txt
File size 10 KB
Parameter(s) Elevation change (dH/dt) in cm/year
Procedures for obtaining data Data are available via FTP.

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

1. Contacts and Acknowledgments

Investigator(s) Name and Title

Curt Davis
Dept. of Electrical Engineering
University of Missouri
Columbia, MO 65211

Craig Kluever
Dept. of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering
University of Missouri
Columbia, MO 65211

Bruce Haines
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology
Pasadena, CA 91109-8099

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

2. Detailed Data Description


Data are in tab-delimited ASCII text format with the following columns:

Lat 1: Latitude of lower-left corner point of each 50 km grid cell (decimal degrees)

Lon1: Longitude of lower-left corner point of each 50 km grid cell (decimal degrees)

Lat2: Latitude of upper-right corner point of each 50 km grid cell (decimal degrees)

Lon2: Longitude of upper-right corner point of each 50 km grid cell (decimal degrees)

Elev: Approximate average surface elevation of the ice sheet within each grid cell (m)

Original dH/dt: Elevation change (cm/year), uncorrected for problem of negative biases in the northwest part of the study area resulting from differences in surface conditions from strong melt years in 1977 and 1978. See Processing Steps in this document.

Revised dH/dt: Corrected elevation change (cm/year)

Error (1 SE): Reported as one standard error (SE), including contributions from random sampling variability and uncertainties in systematic corrections applied to data. These values are only valid for the "Original dH/dt" data.

File Naming Convention

Data are provided in the file "JGRdHdtGridData.txt."

File Size

The file "JGRdHdtGridData.txt" is 10 KB.

Spatial Coverage

Southernmost Latitude: 61°N
Northernmost Latitude: 72°N
Westernmost Longitude: 30°W
Easternmost Longitude: 50°W

Spatial Resolution

Gridded spatial resolution is 50 km.

Temporal Coverage

SEASAT: 28 June 1978 to 10 October 1978
GEOSAT Geodetic Mission (GM): March 1985 to September 1986
GEOSAT Exact Repeat Mission (ERM): November 1986 to December 1989

Parameter or Variable

Sample Data Record

Following are the first several lines of data in the file "JGRdHdtGridData.txt."

		Radar dH/dt (cm/yr)
Lat 1	Lon1	Lat2	Lon2	Elev (m)	Original dH/dt	Revised dH/dt	Error (1 SE)
71.692	308.467	72.148	309.935	1964	-8.4	4.3	4.0
71.692	309.935	72.148	311.402	2146	-8.9	2.1	2.0
71.692	311.402	72.148	312.869	2424	-7.3	1.2	1.5
71.692	312.869	72.148	314.337	2597	-6.9	0.0	1.5
71.692	314.337	72.148	315.804	2767	-4.6	0.8	1.5

Error Sources

Refer to Davis et al. 2000 for details of orbit error analysis with SEASAT and GEOSAT. Comparison with laser dH/dt results and other in-situ data indicates that a typical error value for elevation change estimates in a 50 km cell is approximately ± 2 cm/yr (Davis et al. 2001).

3. Data Access and Tools

Data Access

Data are available via FTP.

Related Data Collections

4. Data Acquisition and Processing

Sensor or Instrument Description

Although designed for data collection over oceans, SEASAT collected over 600,000 altimeter measurements from the continental Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets during a 90-day period. Over sloping and undulating surfaces or surfaces with variable reflective characteristics, SEASAT altimeter radar pulse measurements accelerated faster than the response capability of the altimeter tracking circuit, necessitating a retracking correction for each range value. GEOSAT was launched in 1985 and placed in a nearly identical orbit to SEASAT. The orbit was designed to provide high-density measurements over the Earth's surface, at a maximum grid spacing of 2.7 km at the equator and much denser spacing over polar ice sheets.

Refer to the GEOSAT and SEASAT instrument descriptions for further details.


Elevation change dH = H(t2) - H(t1) over a given time interval dt = t2 - t1 was determined for each cell using the following equation (Davis et al. 2000):

Where A and D denote ascending and descending passes, respectively.

Processing Steps

A global ocean reference network was constructed from four years of Topex/Poseidon altimeter data (Repeat Cycles 11-158, 01 January 1993 to 31 December 1996). This network provides an ideal framework for estimating radial orbit errors and systematic intersatellite and intrasatellite biases. Ice sheet elevation differences were computed at the crossover points between the GEOSAT (GM and ERM) and SEASAT satellite tracks. The crossover data were initially screened to ensure that instrument and environmental corrections were consistently applied to surface elevations. An editing procedure was used to eliminate altimeter waveforms where the initial waveform samples were exceptionally large and noisy (Davis et al. 2001).

The altimeter waveforms were retracked using a threshold algorithm designed specifically for measuring ice sheet elevation change. The Topex/Poseidon orbit error and intersatellite bias corrections were applied to the ice sheet crossover data using a root-difference-square as a measure of the magnitude of the orbit-error reduction in ocean and ice sheet data.

Elevation change data were spatially averaged to 50 x 50 km grid cells. This coarse spatial resolution provides a representative estimate of ice sheet change, because the elevation change data are heavily biased toward the northern interior of the ice sheet. A spatial average was then computed by averaging the individual results for all available cells. The following map shows estimated surface elevation change (Davis et al. 2001):

Uncorrected surface elevations
(View larger image, 105 KB).

This map is similar to the one published in Davis et al. (2000), with two important changes. First, Davis computed the average elevation change estimate for each 50 km grid cell after excluding individual elevation change measurements that exceeded two standard deviations (SD) from the primary Gaussian distribution (2 SD edit). This reduced the spatial variability of the dH/dt estimates between adjacent cells in a few areas with low numbers of measurements within a given cell. Second, Davis excluded dH/dt estimates for a given cell when the random error estimate exceeded ± 4 cm/yr after the 2 SD edit.

Many of the radar-based dH/dt estimates in the northwest part of the study area are negatively biased because of differences in surface conditions resulting from strong melt years in 1977 and 1978. Davis computed a linear regression between dH/dt estimates from 1993-1998 laser altimetry and 1978-1988 radar altimetry as a function of elevation. Radar dH/dt cells north of 70.5°N and west of 38°W were used in the regression along with radar dH/dt cells west of 43.5°W and 69.5 to 70.5°N (west of the radar dH/dt discontinuity). These areas show viable evidence that radar dH/dt measurements are erroneous (Davis et al. 2001).

Davis corrected the dH/dt values in these two areas using the average elevation within each radar dH/dt cell and a linear regression described in Davis et al. (2001). The following map shows the resulting corrected dH/dt estimates; the negative radar estimates in the northwest part of the study area are now slightly positive.

Corrected surface elevations
(View larger image, 109 KB).

5. References and Related Publications

Davis, C.H., J.R. McConnell, J. Bolzan, J.L. Bamber, R.H. Thomas, and E. Mosley-Thompson. 2001. Elevation change of the southern Greenland ice sheet from 1978 to 1998: interpretation. Journal of Geophysical Research 106(D24): 33,743-33,754.

Davis, C.H., C.A. Kluever, B.J. Haines, C. Perez, and Y. Yoon. 2000. Improved elevation change measurement of the southern Greenland ice sheet from satellite radar altimetry. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing 38(3): 1367-1378.

Davis, C.H, C.A. Kluever, and B.J. Haines. 1998a. Elevation change of the southern Greenland ice sheet. Science 279: 2086-2088.

Davis, C.H., C.A. Kluever, and B.J. Haines. 1998b. Comment: Growth of the southern Greenland ice sheet. Science 281: 1251.

Krabill, W., W. Abdalati, E. Frederick, S. Manizade, C. Martin, J. Sonntag, R. Swift, R. Thomas, W. Wright, and J. Yungel. 2000. Greenland ice sheet: high-elevation balance and peripheral thinning. Science 289: 428-430.

Krabill, W., E. Frederick, S. Manizade, C. Martin, J. Sonntag, R. Swift, R. Thomas, W. Wright, and J. Yungel. 1999. Rapid thinning of parts of the southern Greenland ice sheet. Science 283: 1522-24.

McConnell, J.R., R.J. Arthern, E. Mosley-Thompson, C.H. Davis, R.C. Bales, R. Thomas, J.F. Burkhart, and J.D. Kyne. 2000. Changes in Greenland ice sheet elevation attributed primarily to snow accumulation variability. Nature 406(6798): 877-879.

Thomas, R., T. Akins, B. Csatho, M. Fahnestock, P. Gogineni, C. Kim, and J. Sonntag. 2000. Mass balance of the Greenland ice sheet at high elevations. Science 289: 426-428.

Thomas, R.H., C.H. Davis, E. Frederick, S. Manizade, W. Krabill, J. McConnell, and J. Sonntag. 1999. Greenland ice-sheet elevation change since 1978 from radar and laser altimetry. Polar Geography 23(3): 169-184.

Zwally, H.J. 1989. Growth of Greenland ice sheet: interpretation. Science 246: 1589-1591.

Zwally, H.J., A.C. Brenner, J.P. DiMarzio. 1998. Comment: Growth of the southern Greenland ice sheet. Science 281: 1251.

Zwally, H.J., A.C. Brenner, J.A. Major, R.A. Bindschadler, and J.G. Marsh. 1989. Growth of Greenland ice sheet: measurement. Science 246: 1587-1589.

6. Document Information

Acronyms and Abbreviations

The following acronyms and abbreviations are used in this document.

ASCII American Standard Code for Information Interchange
GEOSAT Geodetic Satellite
GM Geodetic Mission
ERM Exact Repeat Mission
SD Standard Deviation
SE Standard Error
SEASAT Sea Satellite

Document Creation Date

April 2004

Document Revision Date

April 2004

Document Review Date

April 2004

Document URL