Elevation changes of west-central Greenland glaciers from 1985 to 2012 from remote sensing

Jacqueline Huber, Robert McNabb, Michael Zemp

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Greenlandic glaciers distinct from the ice sheet make up 12% of the global glacierized area and store about 10% of the global glacier ice volume (Farinotti et al., 2019). However, knowledge about recent climate change-induced volume changes of these 19,000 individual glaciers is limited. The small number of available glaciological and geodetic mass-balance observations have a limited spatial coverage, and the representativeness of these measurements for the region is largely unknown, factors which make a regional assessment of mass balance challenging. Here we use two recently released digital elevation models (DEMs) to assess glacier-wide elevation changes of 1,526 glaciers covering 3,785 km2 in west-central Greenland: The historical AeroDEM representing the
surface in 1985 and a TanDEM-X composite representing 2010–2014. The results show that on average glacier surfaces lowered by about 14.0 ± 4.6m from 1985 until 2012 or 0.5 ± 0.2m yr−1, which is equivalent to a sample mass loss of ∼45.1 ± 14.9 Gt in total or 1.7 ± 0.6 Gt yr−1. Challenges arise from the nature of the DEMs, such as large areas of data voids, fuzzy acquisition dates, and potential radar penetration. We compared several different interpolation methods to assess the best method to fill data voids and constrain unknown survey dates and the associated uncertainties with each method. The potential radar penetration is considered negligible for this assessment in view of the
overall glacier changes, the length of the observation period, and the overall uncertainties. A comparison with earlier studies indicates that for glacier change assessments based on ICES at, data selection and averaging methodology strongly influences the results from these spatially limited measurements. This study promotes improved assessments of the contribution of glaciers to sea-level rise and encourages to extend geodetic glacier mass balances to all glaciers on Greenland.
Original languageEnglish
Article number35
JournalFrontiers in Earth Science
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2020


  • AeroDEM
  • Greenland periphery
  • TanDEM-X (TDX)
  • elevation changes
  • glacier
  • mass change
  • remote sensing


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