Mass loss from alpine glaciers contributes to sea-level rise, water scarcity in alpine communities, and geomorphic hazards. Projections indicate that, as Earth’s climate warms during the next century, mass loss from glaciers will increase. In the tropical Andes alone, almost 4 million people rely on glaciers for water supply during drought. As a result, accurate predictions of how alpine glaciers are responding to warming are essential, yet there still remains significant uncertainty in existing projections. To track the changes of glaciated regions, improve confidence in future climate projects, and protect communities from associated hazards, requires detailed and systematic monitoring programmes. Mountain glaciers present unique challenges for Earth observation, but a new generation of high resolution remote sensing techniques may help better understand the responses of glaciers to changes in the climate, and provide a monitoring system for water resources and natural hazards. This project studies three pioneering remote sensing techniques, applied to the Cordillera Vilcanota, Peru:
Altimetry in Mountainous Regions
The original ICESat mission proved the possibility to derive elevation change from a number of mountain glaciers, but the technique has yet to be adopted widely for use in long-term glacial monitoring. The recent launch of Sentinel-3 (ESA) and ICESat-2 (NASA) both mark a fundamental shift in satellite technology. Both missions offer altimetry measurements at vastly improved spatial or temporal resolutions. I will test the performance of Sentinel-3 and ICESat-2 over mountain glaciers, to identify whether altimetry is a viable technique for quantifying long-term, regional scale mass loss.
Structure-from-Motion (SfM) technology uses an array of 2D images from different viewpoints to create a 3D model of a target. Autonomous SfM, where point cloud data is acquired and processed without an operator present, is in its infancy, but the potential is significant. Technological advances in telecommunications and image acquisition mean that it is now possible to create an automated-SfM technique for monitoring ice margin dynamics in near real-time. This technique will quantify mass loss during individual calving events, which may be able to be optimised to become a hazard warning system for glacial lake outburst floods.
Historic Mass Balance from Stereo Imagery
Glaciers across Peru are rapidly losing mass in response to recent climate warming. The Cordillera Vilcanota lost 30% of glaciated area from 1985-2006, with 45% loss by volume (Salzmann et al., 2013, The Cryosphere 7). Using declassified Corona imagery, in combination with contemporary stereo pairs from SPOT and WorldView, I will quantify the mass balance change of glaciers across Peru over a 55-year time period. This doubles the length of previous mass balance change studies, which provides greater confidence when attributing changes in glacial mass loss to changes in the climate.
NERC SPHERES DTP
Our Autonomous Structure-from-Motion work is kindly supported by the Mount Everest Foundation, Gilchrist Educational Trust, and Priestley Climate Centre.
- Impacts of climate change on the cryosphere
- Glacier and ice sheet monitoring
- Remote Sensing
- Climate Change education
- MSc by Research Geography, University of Leeds
- BSc Geography, University of Exeter
Research groups and institutes
- River Basin Processes and Management
- Ecology and Global Change