ESA GlobGlacier project makes important contribution

GlobGlacier final meeting in Zermatt
8 September 2010

An ambitious ESA project to establish a global picture of glaciers and ice caps from space has concluded successfully with end-users highlighting its contributions during the final meeting in Zermatt, Switzerland.

GlobGlacier, a three-year, €1million project that began in 2007, involved developing services to monitor glaciers with Earth observation satellites and contributing to a global glacier inventory.

As glaciers are sensitive to temperature changes, expanding or retreating in response, their rate of change over time is an indicator of regional and global climate change. A detailed glacier inventory is a key to assessing these changes, but the size of glaciers and the often-inaccessible terrain where they are located can make this information difficult to obtain.

GlobGlacier has been using satellites to help complete the world glacier inventory started in the 1970s by producing outlines of glaciers in regions where data are missing.

"GlobGlacier has made an important contribution towards the completion of the global glacier inventory," said Michael Zemp, Director of the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS). "The close cooperation of the GlobGlacier consortium of remote-sensing specialists with the network of in-situ experts has been a key element for an improved understanding of glacier reaction to climatic changes."

GlobGlacier Project Manager Frank Paul from the University of Zurich, the project’s prime contractor, said: "Thanks to GlobGlacier it has been possible to compile a huge data set of urgently-needed glacier inventory data from key regions all over the world.

“In general, funding agencies do not provide any money for the processing of archived data with established methods, so this project has been really exceptional.

“And, thanks to the opening of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Landsat archive, it was possible to process a large amount of scenes and thus cover large glacierised regions with a consistent geolocation quality."

Glacier changes in Himalayas

The inventory combines information on glacier outlines based on archived satellite data from the Landsat Thematic Mapper and the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus instruments with topographic information from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission and the global digital elevation model from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer.

GlobGlacier has established the standard for data processing. It has also contributed to the Global Land Ice Measurements from Space’s (GLIMS) glacial database.

GLIMS representative Bruce Raup said he is extremely satisfied with the contribution of GlobGlacier, which has become a main supplier to the database.

In addition to GLIMS and WGMS, other GlobGlacier end users are the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate and the Western Canadian Cryospheric Network.

Following the final user meeting, WGMS will remain in Zermatt with its national correspondents for the second time in 15 years. One of the key topics on their agenda to discuss is the better integration of remote-sensing data with field observations.

ESA’s Climate Change Initiative, which will produce robust long-term records of essential climate variables, will build on the results of GlobGlacier by improving the algorithms for glacier monitoring and continually updating the related glacier inventory information.

GlobGlacier Project Manager Frank Paul has been nominated as a lead author for the next assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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