Wintertime polynya structure and variability from thermal remote sensing and seal-borne observations at Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica

Elena Savidge, Tasha Snow, Matthew R. Siegfried, Yixi Zheng, Ana B.Villas Boas, Guilherme A. Bortolotto, Lars Boehme, Karen E. Alley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


Antarctica's ice shelves play a critical role in modulating ice loss to the ocean by buttressing grounded ice upstream. With the potential to impact ice-shelf stability, persistent polynyas (open-water areas surrounded by sea ice that occur across multiple years at the same location) at the edge of many ice-shelf fronts are maintained by winds and/or ocean heat and are locations of strong ice-ocean-atmosphere interactions. However, in situ observations of polynyas are sparse due to the logistical constraints of collecting Antarctic field measurements. Here, we used wintertime (May-August) temperature and salinity observations derived from seal-borne instruments deployed in 2014, 2019, and 2020, in conjunction with thermal imagery from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and the Landsat 8 Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS) to investigate spatial, temporal, and thermal structural variability of polynyas near Pine Island Glacier (PIG). Across the three winters considered, there were 176 anomalously warm ( 3 from background) seal dives near the PIG ice front, including 26 dives that coincided with MODIS images with minimal cloud cover that also showed a warm surface temperature anomaly. These warm surface temperatures correlated with ocean temperatures down to 150 m depth or deeper, depending on the year, suggesting that MODIS-derived surface thermal anomalies can be used for monitoring polynya presence and structure during polar night. The finer spatial resolution (100 m) of TIRS wintertime thermal imagery captures more detailed thermal structural variability within these polynyas, which may provide year-round insight into subice-shelf processes if this dataset is collected operationally.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4300813
JournalIEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2023


  • Ice-ocean interaction
  • Landsat 8 Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS)
  • Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS)
  • persistent polynyas
  • thermal remote sensing

Cite this