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Annual and Seasonal Glacier-Wide Surface Mass Balance Quantified from Changes in Glacier Surface State: A Review on Existing Methods Using Optical Satellite Imagery

Univ. Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, IRD, Institut des Géosciences de l’Environnement (IGE), F-38000 Grenoble, France
National School of Surveying, University Otago, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand
Univ. Toulouse, CNES, CNRS, IRD, Laboratoire d’études en géophysiques et océanographie spatiales (LEGOS), F-31000 Toulouse, France
Météo-France, CNRS, Centre national de recherches météorologiques/Centre d’études de la neige (CNRM/CEN), F-38000 Grenoble, France
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Frank Paul, Xiaofeng Li and Prasad S. Thenkabail
Remote Sens. 2017, 9(5), 507;
Received: 23 February 2017 / Revised: 11 May 2017 / Accepted: 16 May 2017 / Published: 20 May 2017
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Remote Sensing of Glaciers)
PDF [5933 KB, uploaded 20 May 2017]


Glaciers are one of the terrestrial essential climate variables (ECVs) as they respond very sensitively to climate change. A key driver of their response is the glacier surface mass balance that is typically derived from field measurements. It deserves to be quantified over long time scales to better understand the accumulation and ablation processes at the glacier surface and their relationships with inter-annual changes in meteorological conditions and long-term climate changes. Glaciers with in situ monitoring of surface mass balance are scarce at the global scale, and satellite remote sensing provides a powerful tool to increase the number of monitored glaciers. In this study, we present a review of three optical remote sensing methods developed to quantify seasonal and annual glacier surface mass balances. These methodologies rely on the multitemporal monitoring of the end-of-summer snow line for the equilibrium-line altitude (ELA) method, the annual cycle of glacier surface albedo for the albedo method and the mapping of the regional snow cover at the seasonal scale for the snow-map method. Together with a presentation of each method, an application is illustrated. The ELA method shows promising results to quantify annual surface mass balance and to reconstruct multi-decadal time series. The other two methods currently need a calibration on the basis of existing in situ data; however, a generalization of these methods (without calibration) could be achieved. The two latter methods show satisfying results at the annual and seasonal scales, particularly for the summer surface mass balance in the case of the albedo method and for the winter surface mass balance in the case of the snow-map method. The limits of each method (e.g., cloud coverage, debris-covered glaciers, monsoon-regime and cold glaciers), their complementarities and the future challenges (e.g., automating of the satellite images processing, generalization of the methods needing calibration) are also discussed. View Full-Text
Keywords: glaciers; surface mass balance; optical remote sensing glaciers; surface mass balance; optical remote sensing

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Rabatel, A.; Sirguey, P.; Drolon, V.; Maisongrande, P.; Arnaud, Y.; Berthier, E.; Davaze, L.; Dedieu, J.-P.; Dumont, M. Annual and Seasonal Glacier-Wide Surface Mass Balance Quantified from Changes in Glacier Surface State: A Review on Existing Methods Using Optical Satellite Imagery. Remote Sens. 2017, 9, 507.

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