Surface motion of mountain glaciers derived from satellite optical imagery

Remote Sensing Environment, 95(1), 2005

A complete and detailed map of the ice-velocity field on mountain glaciers is obtained by cross-correlating SPOT5 optical images. This approach offers an alternative to SAR interferometry, because no present or planned RADAR satellite mission provides data with a temporal separation short enough to derive the displacements of mountain glaciers.

The methodology presented in this study does not require ground control points (GCPs). The key step is a precise relative orientation of the two images obtained by adjusting the stereo model of one "slave" image assuming that the other "master" image is well georeferenced. It is performed with numerous precisely-located homologous points extracted automatically. The strong ablation occurring during summer time on the glaciers requires a correction to obtain unbiased displacements. The accuracy of our measurement is assessed based on a comparison with nearly simultaneous differential GPS surveys performed on two glaciers of the Mont Blanc area (Alps). If the images have similar incidence angles and correlate well, the accuracy is on the order of 0.5 m, or 1/5 of the pixel size. Similar results are also obtained without GCPs.

An acceleration event, observed in early August for the Mer de Glace, is interpreted in term of an increase in basal sliding.

Our methodology, applied to SPOT5 images, can potentially be used to derive the displacements of the Earth’s surface caused by landslides, earthquakes, and volcanoes.

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