Estimating surface mass balance patterns from unoccupied aerial vehicle measurements in the ablation area of the Morteratsch-Pers glacier complex (Switzerland)

Lander Van Tricht*, Philippe Huybrechts, Jonas Van Breedam, Alexander Vanhulle, Kristof Van Oost, Harry Zekollari

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
11 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

The surface mass balance (SMB) of a glacier provides the link between the glacier and the local climate. For this reason, it is intensively studied and monitored. However, major efforts are required to determine the point SMB at a sufficient number of locations to capture the heterogeneity of the SMB pattern. Furthermore, because of the time-consuming and costly nature of these measurements, detailed SMB measurements are carried out on only a limited number of glaciers. In this study, we investigate how to accurately determine the SMB in the ablation zone of Vadret da Morteratsch and Vadret Pers (Engadin, Switzerland) using the continuity equation method, based on the expression of conservation of mass for glacier flow with constant density. An elaborate dataset (spanning the 2017-2020 period) of high-resolution data derived from unoccupied aerial vehicle (UAV) measurements (surface elevation changes and surface velocities) is combined with reconstructed ice thickness fields (based on radar measurements). To determine the performance of the method, we compare modelled SMB with measured SMB values at the position of stakes. Our results indicate that with annual UAV surveys, it is possible to obtain SMB estimates with a mean absolute error smaller than 0.5m of ice equivalent per year. Yet, our study demonstrates that to obtain these accuracies, it is necessary to consider the ice flow over spatial scales of several times the local ice thickness, accomplished in this study by applying an exponential decay filter. Furthermore, our study highlights the crucial importance of the ice thickness, which must be sufficiently well known in order to accurately apply the method. The latter currently seems to complicate the application of the continuity equation method to derive detailed SMB patterns on regional to global scales.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4445-4464
Number of pages20
JournalCryosphere
Volume15
Issue number9
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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