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Remote sensing of glacier change in West Greenland: accounting for the occurrence of surge-type glaciers

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Automated glacier mapping from thresholded band ratios of multispectral satellite data is a well-established technique to update glacier inventories over large and remote regions. The local glaciers and ice caps on Greenland are of particular interest for such efforts, as they have been only partly mapped, mainly during the 1940s–60s, and their potential contribution to global sea-level rise could be large. Here we use three Landsat ETM+ scenes from 2001 covering Disko Island (Qeqertarsuaq) and the Nuussuaq and Svartenhuk peninsulas, West Greenland, to map the glacier extent in 2001 of 1172 entities. We also manually digitize Little Ice Age (LIA) extents from clearly visible trimlines for a subsample of 500 entities. In this region with numerous surge-type glaciers, the related area-change calculation is challenging and we consider different samples with and without known surging glaciers. For the three regions the mean area changes are –28%, –20% and –23%, respectively, when known surge-type glaciers are excluded. The glaciers on smaller islands and peninsulas closer to the margin of the ice sheet show a lower mean area change of –15%. Moreover, lower (–16%) and upper (–21%) bounds are calculated for the overall area changes in the entire region between the LIA and 2001 using different upscaling assumptions. Cumulative length changes since the LIA are found to be slightly lower for surge-type glaciers.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2010-02-01

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  • The Annals of Glaciology is a peer-reviewed, thematic journal published 2 to 4 times a year by the International Glaciological Society (IGS). Publication frequency is determined and volume/issue numbers assigned by the IGS Council on a year-to-year basis and with a lead time of 3 to 4 years. The Annals of Glaciology is included in the ISI Science Citation Index from volume 50, number 50 onwards.

    Themes can be on any aspect of the study of snow and ice. Individual members can make a suggestion for a theme for an Annals issue to the Secretary General, who will forward it to the IGS Publications Committee. The IGS Publication Committee will make a recommendation for an individual themed Annals issue, together with a potential Annals Chief Editor for that issue, to IGS Council. The IGS Council will make the decision whether to proceed, taking into account the spread of topics and the overall capacity for publication of pages in Annals.

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