Alpine glaciers are very sensitive to climate fluctuations, and their mass balance can be used as an indicator of regional-scale climate change. Here, we present a method to calculate glacier mass balance using remote-sensing data. Snowline measurements from remotely sensed images recorded at the end of the hydrological year provide an effective proxy of the equilibrium line. Mass balance can be deduced from the equilibrium-line altitude (ELA) variations. Three well-documented glaciers in the French Alps, where the mass balance is measured at ground level with a stake network, were selected to assess the accuracy of the method over the 1994–2002 period (eight mass-balance cycles). Results obtained by ground measurements and remote sensing are compared and show excellent correlation (r2 > 0.89), both for the ELA and for the mass balance, indicating that the remote-sensing method can be applied to glaciers where no ground data exist, on the scale of a mountain range or a given climatic area. The main differences can be attributed to discrepancies between the dates of image acquisition and field measurements. Cloud cover and recent snowfalls constitute the main restrictions of the image-based method.
The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.