Remote sensing reveals changes in glaciers

Glacier research provides information on the advance of climate change. Remote sensing is replacing laborious field surveys and enables several glaciers to be studied simultaneously.

Petri Pellikka

Petri Pellikka, Professor of Geoinformatics, coordinates a European Commission research project that is investigating the reliability of remote sensing data and methods in surveying the topography of glaciers. The project has given rise to the first text book in the field, Remote sensing of glaciers, which Pellikka edited together with Gareth Rees from the University of Cambridge.

The book introduces topics such as laser scanning measurements, which provide extremely accurate geographic information and information on the topographic features of glaciers. Remote sensing can provide information on changes in the volume and topography of glaciers more easily than with traditional ground work methods. Several glaciers can also be examined simultaneously using remote sensing methods.

“Two glaciers that are close to each other can react to changes in the local climate in opposite ways. Studying only one can give misleading information,” explains Petri Pellikka.

Changes in the climate can rapidly be seen in glaciers. The melting of glaciers warms the earth’s surface and could raise sea levels. For this reason, it is very important to monitor glaciers.

“We were using 100-year-old maps of the Austrian Hintereisferner Glacier, and by digitising the altitude contours, we were able to establish the changes in how far the glacier extends and its thickness over a century.

Text: Ilona Hietanen
Photo: Nina Himberg

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