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Modelling glacier topography in Antarctica using unmanned aerial survey: assessment of opportunities

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We discuss the application of unmanned aerial systems (UASs) and UAS-derived data to model glacier topography for detecting and analysing slow and rapid changes in glacier surfaces. The study was conducted in East Antarctica in the austral summer 2016/2017. The surveyed areas included an eastern part of the Larsemann Hills, an Airfield of the Progress Station, an initial section of a Sledge route from the Progress to Vostok Stations, and a north-western margin of the Dålk Glacier. We used a Geoscan 201 Geodesy, a professional-grade flying-wing UAS. For the photogrammetric processing, we utilized the Agisoft PhotoScan software. The direct georeferencing approach was applied. Several high-resolution, multitemporal digital elevation models (DEMs) for surveyed areas were produced. The DEM accuracy was estimated in the absence of ground control points and reference DEMs. We determined the ice flow velocity within the Airfield area and the Sledge route zone, where marked points were installed and moved together with the ice surface. We found that UAS imagery can be used for real-time monitoring of open and some snow-covered crevasses of various sizes. Wind-driven snow microforms are also well recognizable on UAS-derived aerial images. The 2017 Dålk Glacier catastrophic subsidence demonstrated that monitoring and studying such events in glaciers and ice sheets are almost impossible without UASs. Optimal meteorological conditions were empirically determined for conducting unmanned aerial survey to obtain images suitable for subsequent photogrammetric processing and DEM generation. Finally, we discuss adaptation of equipment and software to the Antarctic environment.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Cartography and Geoinformatics, Institute of Earth Sciences, St. Petersburg University, St. Petersburg, Russia 2: Institute of Mathematical Problems of Biology, Keldysh Institute of Applied Mathematics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Pushchino, Russia 3: Department of Photogrammetry, Moscow State University of Geodesy and Cartography (MIIGAiK), Moscow, Russia

Publication date: April 3, 2019

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