Active rock glaciers represent the best visual expression of mountain permafrost that can be mapped and monitored directly using remotely sensed data. Active rock glaciers are bodies that consist of a perennially frozen ice/rock mixture and express a distinct flow-like morphology indicating downslope permafrost creep movement. Annual rates of motion have ranged from a few millimeters to several meters per year, varying within the annual cycle, from year to year, as well as at the decennial time scale. During the last decade, in situ observations in the European Alps have shown that active rock glaciers are responding almost synchronously to inter-annual and decennial changes in ground temperature, suggesting that the relative changes of their kinematics are a general indicator of the evolution of mountain permafrost conditions. Here, we used satellite radar interferometry (InSAR) to monitor the rate of motion of various active rock glaciers in the Swiss Alps, Qeqertarsuaq (Western Greenland), and the semiarid Andes of South America. Velocity time series computed with Sentinel-1 SAR images, regularly acquired since 2014, every six days over Europe and Greenland and every 12 days over the Andes, show annual fluctuations, with higher velocities at the end of the summer. A JERS-1 image pair of 1996 and stacks of very high-resolution SAR images from TerraSAR-X and Cosmo-SkyMed from 2008 to 2017 were analyzed using InSAR and offset tracking over the Western Swiss Alps in order to extend the main observation period of our study. A quantitative assessment of the accuracy of InSAR and offset tracking was performed by comparison with in situ methods. Our results for the three different study regions demonstrate that Sentinel-1 InSAR can complement worldwide in situ measurements of active rock glacier kinematics.
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