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Assessing the relevance of digital elevation models to evaluate glacier mass balance: application to Austre Lovénbreen (Spitsbergen, 79°N)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 November 2011

J-M. Friedt
University of Franche-Comté, FEMTO-ST, UMR 6174 CNRS, Besançon, France (
F. Tolle
University of Franche-Comté, ThéMA, UMR 6049 CNRS, Besançon, France
É. Bernard
University of Franche-Comté, ThéMA, UMR 6049 CNRS, Besançon, France
M. Griselin
University of Franche-Comté, ThéMA, UMR 6049 CNRS, Besançon, France
D. Laffly
University of Toulouse, GEODE, UMR 5602 CNRS. Toulouse, France
C. Marlin
University of Paris Sud, IDES, UMR 8148 CNRS, Orsay, France


The volume variation of a glacier is the actual indicator of long term and short term evolution of the glacier behaviour. In order to assess the volume evolution of the Austre Lovénbreen (79° N) over the last 47 years, we used multiple historical datasets, complemented with our high density GPS tracks acquired in 2007 and 2010. The improved altitude resolution of recent measurement techniques, including phase corrected GPS and LiDAR, reduces the time interval between datasets used for volume subtraction in order to compute the mass balance. We estimate the sub-metre elevation accuracy of most recent measurement techniques to be sufficient to record ice thickness evolutions occurring over a 3 year duration at polar latitudes.

The systematic discrepancy between ablation stake measurements and DEM analysis, widely reported in the literature as well as in the current study, yields new questions concerning the similarity and relationship between these two measurement methods.

The use of Digital Elevation Model (DEM) has been an attractive alternative measurement technique to estimate glacier area and volume evolution over time with respect to the classical in situ measurement techniques based on ablation stakes. With the availability of historical datasets, whether from ground based maps, aerial photography or satellite data acquisition, such a glacier volume estimate strategy allows for the extension of the analysis duration beyond the current research programmes. Furthermore, these methods do provide a continuous spatial coverage defined by its cell size whereas interpolations based on a limited number of stakes display large spatial uncertainties. In this document, we focus on estimating the altitude accuracy of various datasets acquired between 1962 and 2010, using various techniques ranging from topographic maps to dual frequency skidoo-tracked GPS receivers and the classical aerial and satellite photogrammetric techniques.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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