L-Band for ice & snow

The sensitivity of long-wave microwaves to liquid water enables various applications in the cryosphere, the ice and snow covered regions of the planet. Significant penetration into snow and ice presents unique opportunities in hydrology, safety, transportation, and climate monitoring.   

Hydrology applications with snow-liquid water detection


avalanche mitigation with melt onset and layer assessment


Sea ice thickness mapping for maritime cargo mobility

Photo: An early prototype of the TerraRad Tech Portable L-band Radiometer was sent to measure sea-ice as part of the MOSAiC Expedition in 2020

TerraRad for ice, snow, and frozen soils

The long wavelength of L-band microwaves along with the relatively low loss (permittivity) of snow and ice, provides them the ability to measure properties deep within ice and snow. The TerraRad radiometer can measure liquid water suspended within glaciers, thickness of sea-ice, and melt water forming on the surface of snow. The ability to measure the density of snow, an importable parameter for computing the mass balance of ice sheets, has also demonstrated from L-band radiometry.  

Photo: Flightlines over the Rhöne glacier in Switzerland, known for having significant sub-glacial water channels.

Passive L-band for Cryosphere: A Relatively New Field

Although satellites carrying L-band radiometers have been in orbit since 2009, use of this technology for ice, snow, and frozen soils is still a relatively new research field. New research is still showing the full potential of the technology for use in the polar and alpine regions. Some of the cryospheric uses of the TerraRad Tech radiometer include installation on Automatic Weather Stations (AWSs) to monitor snow density, in alpine regions to investigate changes in snowpack leading to dangerous avalanche conditions, and for hydrological monitoring of Snow Water Equivalent or SWE.

Photo: The TerraRad drone-based radiometer in flight over a winter alpine research site in Davos-Laret, Switzerland

Image: Average annual melt (2012-16) in m/yr over the Greenland ice sheet derived from L-band radiometry (Ref.)

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