Emily Berndt

Short-term Prediction Research and Transition Center, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

Applied Research Topic: 

ICESat-2 Land and Sea Ice Depth Observations to Support Operational Weather Forecasting in Alaska

Potential Applications: 

Commercial fishing and offshore oil; Operational use by Alaska forecasters


Understanding the extent and depth of ice and snow is necessary to the mission of the National Weather Service (NWS) in Alaska. Commercial fishing and offshore oil drives the economy, so accurate modeling and observation of sea ice extent and depth is needed to ensure all people make it home safely at the end of their work. Land ice extent and thickness information is needed, especially in the early spring, when the winter's accumulation begins to melt and can lead to life- and property-threatening floods. One of the challenges of the NWS in Alaska is having accurate representation of environmental fields in the vast unobserved areas over both land and ocean.

The NWS runs sea ice (e.g., NCEP EMC) and land ice/snow extent (e.g., NOHRSC) models to support operational models to support forecasters in Alaska. However, with only a sparse network of observations, verifying the accuracy of these models requires quantitative information on the extent and depth of ice and snow on both land and water. The latency of ICESat-2 observations (45 days for derived products) makes these data difficult to use for real-time operations. However, the observations can be used as validation datasets for these land and sea ice models. This can be done by either 1) developing a database of observations for understanding the quantitative variability of the models or 2) using these observations to give confidence in what is seen in the models. As a specific example, it is anticipated that the land ice products—used in late winter to determine the depth and extent of that winter's ice—could aid forecasters in understanding whether the modeled ice/snow depth is indeed accurate for early spring melting that can result in significant downstream flooding.

SPoRT has a long-established partnership with NWS Alaska Region Headquarters and will use its proven research-to-operations paradigm to support transition of ICESat-2 observations into formats that can be used by forecasters in Alaska.These activities will link with plans by Alaska Region to develop an Arctic Testbed that will be used to demonstrate the operational utility of new satellite datasets.

SDT Member Partner: 
  • Kevin Fuell, SPoRT Research Scientist,еКUniversity of Alabama in Hunstville
  • Matt Smith, SPoRT Research Scientist, University of Alabama in Hunstville
  • Frank LaFontaine, SPoRT Research Associate, Raytheon
End Users: 

Gene Petrescu (NOAA/NWS Arctic Testbed); National Weather Service, Alaska Region Headquarters: Michael Mercer, Environmental Scientific and Services Division (ESSD) Chief; Becki Heim, EESD Regional Program Manager

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