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Three different glacier surges at a spot: what satellites observe and what not


Paul, Frank; Piermattei, Livia; Treichler, Désirée; Gilbert, Lin; Girod, Luc; Kääb, Andreas; Libert, Ludivine; Nagler, Thomas; Strozzi, Tazio; Wuite, Jan (2022). Three different glacier surges at a spot: what satellites observe and what not. The Cryosphere, 16(6):2505-2526.

Abstract

In the Karakoram, dozens of glacier surges occurred in the past 2 decades, making the region a global hotspot. Detailed analyses of dense time series from optical and radar satellite images revealed a wide range of surge behaviour in this region: from slow advances longer than a decade at low flow velocities to short, pulse-like advances over 1 or 2 years with high velocities. In this study, we present an analysis of three currently surging glaciers in the central Karakoram: North and South Chongtar Glaciers and an unnamed glacier referred to as NN9. All three glaciers flow towards the same small region but differ strongly in surge behaviour. A full suite of satellites (e.g. Landsat, Sentinel-1 and 2, Planet, TerraSAR-X, ICESat-2) and digital elevation models (DEMs) from different sources (e.g. Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, SRTM; Satellite Pour l’Observation de la Terre, SPOT; High Mountain Asia DEM, HMA DEM) are used to (a) obtain comprehensive information about the evolution of the surges from 2000 to 2021 and (b) to compare and evaluate capabilities and limitations of the different satellite sensors for monitoring surges of relatively small glaciers in steep terrain. A strongly contrasting evolution of advance rates and flow velocities is found, though the elevation change pattern is more similar. For example, South Chongtar Glacier had short-lived advance rates above 10 km yr−1, velocities up to 30 m d−1, and surface elevations increasing by 170 m. In contrast, the neighbouring and 3-times-smaller North Chongtar Glacier had a slow and near-linear increase in advance rates (up to 500 m yr−1), flow velocities below 1 m d−1 and elevation increases up to 100 m. The even smaller glacier NN9 changed from a slow advance to a full surge within a year, reaching advance rates higher than 1 km yr−1. It seems that, despite a similar climatic setting, different surge mechanisms are at play, and a transition from one mechanism to another can occur during a single surge. The sensor inter-comparison revealed a high agreement across sensors for deriving flow velocities, but limitations are found on small and narrow glaciers in steep terrain, in particular for Sentinel-1. All investigated DEMs have the required accuracy to clearly show the volume changes during the surges, and elevations from ICESat-2 ATL03 data fit neatly to the other DEMs. We conclude that the available satellite data allow for a comprehensive observation of glacier surges from space when combining different sensors to determine the temporal evolution of length, elevation and velocity changes.

Abstract

In the Karakoram, dozens of glacier surges occurred in the past 2 decades, making the region a global hotspot. Detailed analyses of dense time series from optical and radar satellite images revealed a wide range of surge behaviour in this region: from slow advances longer than a decade at low flow velocities to short, pulse-like advances over 1 or 2 years with high velocities. In this study, we present an analysis of three currently surging glaciers in the central Karakoram: North and South Chongtar Glaciers and an unnamed glacier referred to as NN9. All three glaciers flow towards the same small region but differ strongly in surge behaviour. A full suite of satellites (e.g. Landsat, Sentinel-1 and 2, Planet, TerraSAR-X, ICESat-2) and digital elevation models (DEMs) from different sources (e.g. Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, SRTM; Satellite Pour l’Observation de la Terre, SPOT; High Mountain Asia DEM, HMA DEM) are used to (a) obtain comprehensive information about the evolution of the surges from 2000 to 2021 and (b) to compare and evaluate capabilities and limitations of the different satellite sensors for monitoring surges of relatively small glaciers in steep terrain. A strongly contrasting evolution of advance rates and flow velocities is found, though the elevation change pattern is more similar. For example, South Chongtar Glacier had short-lived advance rates above 10 km yr−1, velocities up to 30 m d−1, and surface elevations increasing by 170 m. In contrast, the neighbouring and 3-times-smaller North Chongtar Glacier had a slow and near-linear increase in advance rates (up to 500 m yr−1), flow velocities below 1 m d−1 and elevation increases up to 100 m. The even smaller glacier NN9 changed from a slow advance to a full surge within a year, reaching advance rates higher than 1 km yr−1. It seems that, despite a similar climatic setting, different surge mechanisms are at play, and a transition from one mechanism to another can occur during a single surge. The sensor inter-comparison revealed a high agreement across sensors for deriving flow velocities, but limitations are found on small and narrow glaciers in steep terrain, in particular for Sentinel-1. All investigated DEMs have the required accuracy to clearly show the volume changes during the surges, and elevations from ICESat-2 ATL03 data fit neatly to the other DEMs. We conclude that the available satellite data allow for a comprehensive observation of glacier surges from space when combining different sensors to determine the temporal evolution of length, elevation and velocity changes.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Scopus Subject Areas:Physical Sciences > Water Science and Technology
Physical Sciences > Earth-Surface Processes
Uncontrolled Keywords:Earth-Surface Processes, Water Science and Technology
Language:English
Date:24 June 2022
Deposited On:15 Feb 2023 14:34
Last Modified:28 Jun 2024 01:43
Publisher:Copernicus Publications
ISSN:1994-0416
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-16-2505-2022
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)