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Firn properties and satellite imagery: Early results from the Norwegian-US Scientific Traverse of East Antarctica


East Antarctica is perhaps the most remote and least understood area of the ice sheet. Satellite imagery shows varying signatures over the continent, but the underlying features of the firn responsible for the signatures are not well understood. The Norwegian-US Traverse of East Antarctica, an internationally-coordinated scientific expedition of the International Polar Year 2007-8, was launched to investigate climate and glaciology in East Antarctica. Firn cores to be analyzed for physical properties were retrieved from sites along the traverse route that were selected to provide evidence for the causes of variations in satellite signatures, and also to correlate the physical properties with the electrical and chemical measurements made on firn cores from the traverse. Measurements of stratigraphy, density, and permeability were made on firn cores ranging in depth from 10 to 30 meters at various sites. Comparisons of the firn properties with Modis and Radarsat imagery show that the imagery is indicative of the nature of the physical properties of the firn. These measurements will enable us to use imagery to extrapolate our results over larger areas of the continent for improved understanding of the links between physical properties of firn and climate.