New Calculations of Worldwide Glacial Flows and Volumes From Over 800,000 Pairs of Satellite Images

Ice Flow Velocities for Andean Glaciers

Ice flow velocities for Andean glaciers. Credit: © Romain Millan, Jean-Baptiste Barré / CNRS / IGE – Map data : Mapbox / OpenStreetMap / Maxar

Many mountain populations—in the Andes or Himalayas, for example—rely on glaciers for their water. Yet changes in glacial water reserves, like predictions of sea level rise, greatly depend on glacier volume and thickness, both of which have been poorly evaluated—until now.

By analyzing over 800,000 pairs of satellite images, researchers from the CNRS, Université Grenoble Alpes (France), and Dartmouth College (USA) have established the first global map of flow velocities for 98% (>200,000) of the world’s glaciers. As glacial flow is a function of glacial mass, knowing the former allows one to estimate ice thickness and spatial distribution, which in turn determine the total volume of water that glaciers hold and their future contribution to sea level rise.

Ice flow velocities for Alaskan glaciers. Credit: © Romain Millan, Jean-Baptiste Barré / CNRS / IGE – Map data : Mapbox / OpenStreetMap / Maxar

The researchers’ findings suggest glacial water reserves in the Himalayan watersheds of the Indus and Chenab are a third greater than estimated by previous studies, before the new satellite data were available. In contrast, the volume of water held in tropical Andean glaciers, which sustains over 4 million people, may be up to 23% smaller than once thought.

The present study, published in Nature Geoscience on February 7th, 2022, is based on Sentinel (ESA) and Landsat (NASA) satellite imagery that was analyzed on Université Grenoble Alpes servers (>106 h of computer processing time). It had support from the French space agency (CNES).

For more on this research, see New Atlas of Globe’s Glaciers Finds They Have Less Ice Than Previously Thought.

Reference: “Ice velocity and thickness of the world’s glaciers” by Romain Millan, Jérémie Mouginot, Antoine Rabatel and Mathieu Morlighem, 7 February 2022, Nature Geoscience.
DOI: 10.1038/s41561-021-00885-z


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