SPOT5-HRS digital elevation models and the monitoring of glacier elevation changes in North-West Canada and South-East Alaska

Remote Sensing of Environment
112(5), 24432454, doi: 10.1016/j.rse.2007.11.004, 2008

Monitoring the response of land ice to climate change requires accurate and repeatable topographic surveys. The SPOT5-HRS (High Resolution Stereoscopic) instrument covers up to 120 km by 600 km in a single pass and has the potential to accurately map the poorly known topography of most glaciers and ice caps. The acquisition of a large HRS archive over ice-covered regions is planned by the French Space Agency (CNES) and Spotimage, France during the 2007-2008 International Polar Year (IPY). Here, we report on the accuracy and value of HRS digital elevation model (DEM) over ice and snow surfaces.

A DEM is generated by combining tools available from CNES with the PCI OrthoengineSE software, using HRS images acquired in May 2004 over South-East Alaska (USA) and northern British Columbia (Canada). The DEM is evaluated through comparison with shuttle radar topographic mission (SRTM) DEM and ICESAT data, on and around the glaciers. A horizontal shift of 50 m is found between the HRS and SRTM DEMs and is attributed to errors in the SRTM DEM. Over ice-free areas, HRS elevations are 7 m higher than those of SRTM, with a standard deviation of 25 m for the difference between the two DEMs. The 7-m difference is partly attributed to the differential penetration of the electromagnetic waves (visible for HRS; microwave for SRTM) in snow and vegetation.

We also report on the application of sequential DEMs (SRTM DEM in February 2000 and HRS DEM in May 2004) for the monitoring of glacier elevation changes. We map the topographic changes induced by a surge of one tributary of Ferris Glacier. Maximum surface lowering of 42 (10) m and rising of 77 (10) m are observed in the 4 years time interval. Thinning rates up to 10 (2.5) m/yr are observed at low altitudes and confirm the ongoing wastage of glaciers in South-East Alaska.

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