Articles | Volume 9, issue 1
Review article
16 Feb 2017
Review article |  | 16 Feb 2017

An extended global Earth system data record on daily landscape freeze–thaw status determined from satellite passive microwave remote sensing

Youngwook Kim, John S. Kimball, Joseph Glassy, and Jinyang Du

Abstract. The landscape freeze–thaw (FT) signal determined from satellite microwave brightness temperature (Tb) observations has been widely used to define frozen temperature controls on land surface water mobility and ecological processes. Calibrated 37 GHz Tb retrievals from the Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer (SMMR), Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I), and SSM/I Sounder (SSMIS) were used to produce a consistent and continuous global daily data record of landscape FT status at 25 km grid cell resolution. The resulting FT Earth system data record (FT-ESDR) is derived from a refined classification algorithm and extends over a larger domain and longer period (1979–2014) than prior FT-ESDR releases. The global domain encompasses all land areas affected by seasonal frozen temperatures, including urban, snow- and ice-dominant and barren land, which were not represented by prior FT-ESDR versions. The FT retrieval is obtained using a modified seasonal threshold algorithm (MSTA) that classifies daily Tb variations in relation to grid-cell-wise FT thresholds calibrated using surface air temperature data from model reanalysis. The resulting FT record shows respective mean annual spatial classification accuracies of 90.3 and 84.3 % for evening (PM) and morning (AM) overpass retrievals relative to global weather station measurements. Detailed data quality metrics are derived characterizing the effects of sub-grid-scale open water and terrain heterogeneity, as well as algorithm uncertainties on FT classification accuracy. The FT-ESDR results are also verified against other independent cryospheric data, including in situ lake and river ice phenology, and satellite observations of Greenland surface melt. The expanded FT-ESDR enables new investigations encompassing snow- and ice-dominant land areas, while the longer record and favorable accuracy allow for refined global change assessments that can better distinguish transient weather extremes, landscape phenological shifts, and climate anomalies from longer-term trends extending over multiple decades. The dataset is freely available online (doi:10.5067/MEASURES/CRYOSPHERE/nsidc-0477.003).

Short summary
A new freeze–thaw (FT) Earth system data record (ESDR) was developed from satellite passive microwave remote sensing that quantifies the daily landscape frozen or non-frozen status over a 25 km resolution global grid and 1979–2014 record. The FT-ESDR shows favorable accuracy and performance, enabling new studies of climate change and frozen season impacts on surface water mobility and ecosystem processes.