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Analysis of glacier facies using satellite techniques

  • Richard S. Williams (a1), Dorothy K. Hall (a2) and Carl S. Benson (a3)


The different snow and ice types on a glacier may be subdivided according to the glacier-facies concept. The surficial expression of some facies may be detected at the end of the balance year by the use of visible and near-infrared image data from the Landsat multispectral scanner (MSS) and thematic mapper (TM) sensors. Ice and snow can be distinguished by reflectivity differences in individual or ratioed TM bands on Brúarjökull, an outlet glacier on the northern margin of the Vatnajökull ice cap, Iceland. The Landsat scene shows the upper limit of wet snow on 24 August 1986. Landsat-derived reflectance is lowest for exposed ice and increases markedly at the transient snow line. Above the slush zone is a gradual increase in near-infrared reflectance as a result of decreasing grain-size of the snow, which characterizes drier snow. Landsat data are useful in measuring the areal extent of the ice facies, the slush zone within the wet-snow facies, the snow facies (combined wet-snow, percolation and dry-snow facies), and the respective positions of the transient snow line and the slush limit. In addition, fresh snowfall and/or airborne contaminants, such as soot and tcphra, can limit the utility of Landsat data for delineation of the glacier facies in some cases.

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