Freeboard height and snow depth observed by floating GPS on land-fast sea ice in Nella Fjord, Antarctica

Qingchuan Zhang, Fei Li, Jintao Lei, Shengkai Zhang, Zhuoming Ding, Wu Chen, Wenhao Li

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Although altimeters have been widely used to monitor the spatiotemporal variation of sea-ice thickness, they are unable to separate sea-ice freeboard from snow depth. We use a floating GPS deployed on sea ice to derive the freeboard and snow depth near China's Zhongshan Station. Our results show that the standalone floating GPS can monitor freeboard with a precision of 4.2 cm. If time-varying dynamic ocean topography provided by, for example, a bottom pressure gauge is available, then the precision of GPS-derived freeboard can improve to 1.3 cm. The daily snow depth inverted by GPS interferometric reflectometry captures three precipitation events during our experiment, showing that the floating GPS can monitor the variation in snow depth and observe the freeboard variation at the same time. By studying the relationship between freeboard, snow depth and sea-ice thickness, we find that sea-ice thickness will be greatly underestimated by the negative single-point freeboard under the assumption of hydrostatic equilibrium. As a supplement to existing technologies, the GPS-derived freeboard and snow depth can be used both to evaluate the altimeter observations directly and to improve our understanding of the real-time variation of freeboard and snow depth in the experimental area.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)227-239
Number of pages13
JournalAnnals of Glaciology
Issue number82
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020


  • GPS
  • sea-ice freeboard
  • sea-ice thickness
  • snow depth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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