A new Swiss glacier inventory is to be compiled from satellite data for the year 2000. The study presented here describes two major tasks: (1) an accuracy assessment of different methods for glacier classification with Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) data and a digital elevation model (DEM); (2) the geographical information system (GIS)-based methods for automatic extraction of individual glaciers from classified satellite data and the computation of three-dimensional glacier parameters (such as minimum, maximum and median elevation or slope and orientation) by fusion with a DEM. First results obtained by these methods are presented in Part II of this paper (Kääb and others, 2002). Thresholding of a ratio image from TM4 and TM5 reveals the best-suited glacier map. The computation of glacier parameters in a GIS environment is efficient and suitable for worldwide application. The methods developed contribute to the U.S. Geological Survey-led Global Land Ice Measurements from Space (GLIMS) project which is currently compiling a global inventory of land ice masses within the framework of global glacier monitoring (Haeberli and others, 2000).