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Identifying and mapping very small (<0.5 km2) mountain glaciers on coarse to high-resolution imagery

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Rachel Carr



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© The Author(s) 2019 This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Small mountain glaciers are an important part of the cryosphere and tend to respond rapidly to climate warming. Historically, mapping very small glaciers (generally considered to be <0.5 km2) using satellite imagery has often been subjective due to the difficulty in differentiating them from perennial snowpatches. For this reason, most scientists implement minimum size-Thresholds (typically 0.01-0.05 km2). Here, we compare the ability of different remote-sensing approaches to identify and map very small glaciers on imagery of varying spatial resolutions (30-0.25 m) and investigate how operator subjectivity influences the results. Based on this analysis, we support the use of a minimum size-Threshold of 0.01 km2 for imagery with coarse to medium spatial resolution (30-10 m). However, when mapping on high-resolution imagery (<1 m) with minimal seasonal snow cover, glaciers <0.05 km2 and even <0.01 km2 are readily identifiable and using a minimum threshold may be inappropriate. For these cases, we develop a set of criteria to enable the identification of very small glaciers and classify them as certain, probable or possible. This should facilitate a more consistent approach to identifying and mapping very small glaciers on high-resolution imagery, helping to produce more comprehensive and accurate glacier inventories.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Leigh JR, Stokes CR, Carr RJ, Evans IS, Andreassen LM, Evans DJA

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Glaciology

Year: 2019

Volume: 65

Issue: 254

Pages: 873-888

Print publication date: 01/12/2019

Online publication date: 27/09/2019

Acceptance date: 09/07/2019

Date deposited: 14/10/2019

ISSN (print): 0022-1430

ISSN (electronic): 1727-5652

Publisher: Cambridge University Press


DOI: 10.1017/jog.2019.50


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