The firn line, like other glacier facies, is mapped operationally as part of glacier monitoring activities for glaciological and climate studies. Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images are commonly used to determine the firn line in dry snow imagery. The radiometric response of retreating firn has not previously been investigated. Rather, it has been assumed that firn line mapping is only useful where large scale advances or retreats of the lower limit of continuous firn have occurred. In this paper the radiometric signal of retreating firn on an icecap in north Norway is analyzed using multi-temporal SAR imagery. Using comparisons with firn well above the firn line and field investigations of the firn properties, backscattering mechanisms are inferred. It is found that retreating firn has a distinctive radiometric signal that can be used to identify the inception and progression of firn down-wasting prior to and during firn line retreat.