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PhD Defense - Nathan Kurtz

Nathan successfully defended his dissertation on November 23, 2009

Application of satellite laser altimetry data to studies of sea ice properties and processes

Sea ice plays an important role in the global climate system by impacting the energy balance of the Earth as well as affecting the oceanic and atmospheric circulations. Recently, large changes have been observed in the Earth's areal coverage of sea ice. However, little is currently known about sea ice thickness particularly at the scales needed for climate research. Spaceborne remote sensing provides the necessary global scale of coverage, but the retrieval of sea ice thickness from space has not been possible until recently with the launch of satellite altimeters of high accuracy and precision. The Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) is one such laser altimeter with the potential to retrieve sea ice freeboard, which, when combined with snow depth retrievals and the assumption of hydrostatic balance allows for the determination of sea ice thickness. The goal of this study is to use data from ICESat to provide sea ice thickness values at the global scale and high spatial resolution needed for climate studies. The work presented in this thesis includes the validation and improvement of ICESat data products, development and validation of sea ice freeboard retrieval algorithms using the ICESat data products, and the development of a method to combine ICESat freeboard retrievals with a snow depth data set to determine sea ice thickness at the 70 m spatial resolution of ICESat. The ICESat data set is used to study sea ice thickness, heat exchange, and ice production in the Arctic Ocean for the 2003-2008 time period. Despite the thinning of the Arctic sea ice cover over the 2003-2008 time period, mean ice growth rates for consecutive fall and winter measurement periods remained relatively constant. An increased ice growth rate which may be expected from a thinner ice cover appeared to be balanced by warmer temperatures. An increased ocean-atmosphere heat flux is also observed due to the thinning of the sea ice cover.