November 14, 2017

EOC Scientist Receives Helmut-Rott Award

EOC scientist Dr. Wael Abdel Jaber was presented with the Helmut-Rott Award on 19 Oct. 2017. This distinction is awarded every two years for outstanding dissertations in the field of remote sensing of the cryosphere. Dr. Wael Abdel Jaber (at right in the photo) received his doctorate in August 2016 at Munich Technical University (TUM). His dissertation is entitled, “Derivation of mass balance and surface velocity of glaciers by means of high resolution synthetic aperture radar: application to the Patagonian Icefields and Antarctica”.

Satellite remote sensing has revolutionized traditional glaciology over the past few decades. Regions that are difficult to access can now be monitored with considerably higher spatial and temporal resolution than in the past. Particularly synthetic aperture radar satellites (SAR) have enormous advantages for monitoring the cryosphere. They are able to record large areas in high resolution, systematically, day and night, year round, in all kinds of weather. The radar beam penetrates several metres into dry snow and also supplies information invisible to optical systems, for example about underlying boundary layers and volumes.

Glaciers and the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are basic components of the global climate system and react very sensitively to climate change. Worldwide the last decades have witnessed significant and accelerating loss of ice mass. In order to improve still-uncertain estimates and forecasts of global glacier loss as well as climate change models, the mechanisms of glacier dynamics need to be better understood. The dissertation honoured with the Helmut-Rott Award focuses on more precisely appraising the mass balance and surface velocity of glaciers.

For the dissertation high-resolution digital elevation models (DEM) from the current TanDEM-X mission were combined with SRTM C-Band DEM from the year 2000 to derive detailed maps of elevation changes and glacier mass balances, whereby sources of error like the penetration of radar signals into dry snow were particularly taken into account.

Along with other locations, the Northern and Southern Patagonian Ice Fields – at 16,700 square kilometres the Southern Hemisphere’s largest mid-latitude ice masses – were studied. These ice fields are very dynamic and experience heavy losses. The Jorge Montt Glacier in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field has the highest thinning rate. In only three years (2011 – 2014) the glacier lost 2.59 gigatons of ice per year, 50 percent more than in the 2000 - 2011 time span. This mass lost is equivalent to the weight of over 4,500 fully-loaded oil tankers the size of the Jahr Viking supertanker, the largest and heaviest ship ever built.