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Inferring Glacier Mass Balance Using Radarsat: Results From Peyto Glacier, Canada

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The capability of RADARSAT synthetic aperture radar (SAR) for the purpose of snow-line/accumulation area mapping for a temperate alpine glacier is examined. In agreement with other orbital C-band SAR studies, RADARSAT can discriminate between firn and bare ice facies. Limited observations are reported with respect to the electromagnetic variability of the ice facies in the ablation area, but they are inconclusive. Operational considerations are discussed with respect to reconciling the uncertainties of late-summer weather and their possible impact on the dielectric and scattering properties of the glacier surface. Vagaries associated with other glacier settings, mass balance states and their associated facies configurations are discussed including the difficulty of using the transient snow-line to define the equilibrium line and the lower extent of the accumulation area for glaciers where superimposed ice may form.

The radar remote-sensing reconnaissance of equilibrium line altitude (ELA) and accumulation area ratio (AAR) for estimating glacier mass balance requires serious consideration in those instances where traditional ground measurements used in the direct glaciological method are absent. However, with respect to the ELA, such estimates can vary depending on the accuracy of the reference digital elevation information. Moreover, for many glacier configurations, where mass balance variations due to altitude are influenced or in some cases completely masked by local balance variations, defining the ELA may be an irreconcilable problem. Using the AAR may be more robust in this regard. It is further determined that the total error inherent in the reconnaissance method would have serious implications for the confident estimation of mass balance normals and climate-related trends if the method were to be utilized over the longer term.

Keywords: Abramov Glacier; Mass balance; White Glacier; accuracy; sample size; statistical modelling

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.0435-3676.1999.00081.x

Affiliations: 1: Terrain Sciences Division, Geological Survey of Canada, Ottawa, Canada, 2: National Water Research Institute, Environment Canada, Saskatoon, Canada

Publication date: December 1, 1999

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