Optical remote sensing of glacier characteristics: A review with focus on the Himalaya

Adina E. Racoviteanu, Mark W. Williams, Roger G. Barry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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The increased availability of remote sensing platforms with appropriate spatial and temporal resolution, global coverage and low financial costs allows for fast, semi-automated, and cost-effective estimates of changes in glacier parameters over large areas. Remote sensing approaches allow for regular monitoring of the properties of alpine glaciers such as ice extent, terminus position, volume and surface elevation, from which glacier mass balance can be inferred. Such methods are particularly useful in remote areas with limited field-based glaciological measurements. This paper reviews advances in the use of visible and infrared remote sensing combined with field methods for estimating glacier parameters, with emphasis on volume/area changes and glacier mass balance. The focus is on the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) sensor and its applicability for monitoring Himalayan glaciers. The methods reviewed are: volumetric changes inferred from digital elevation models (DEMs), glacier delineation algorithms from multi-spectral analysis, changes in glacier area at decadal time scales, and AAR/ELA methods used to calculate yearly mass balances. The current limitations and on-going challenges in using remote sensing for mapping characteristics of mountain glaciers also discussed, specifically in the context of the Himalaya.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3355-3383
Number of pages29
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 23 May 2008


  • DEM
  • Glaciers
  • Himalaya
  • Mass balance
  • Remote sensing


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