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Using remote-sensing data to determine equilibrium-line altitude and mass-balance time series: validation on three French glaciers, 1994-2002

Abstract : Alpine glaciers are very sensitive to climate fluctuations, and their mass balance can be used as an indicator of regional-scale climate change. Here, we present a method to calculate glacier mass balance using remote-sensing data. Snowline measurements from remotely sensed images recorded at the end of the hydrological year provide an effective proxy of the equilibrium line. Mass balance can be deduced from the equilibrium-line altitude (ELA) variations. Three well-documented glaciers in the French Alps, where the mass balance is measured at ground level with a stake network, were selected to assess the accuracy of the method over the 1994-2002 period (eight mass-balance cycles). Results obtained by ground measurements and remote sensing are compared and show excellent correlation (r2 > 0.89), both for the ELA and for the mass balance, indicating that the remote-sensing method can be applied to glaciers where no ground data exist, on the scale of a mountain range or a given climatic area. The main differences can be attributed to discrepancies between the dates of image acquisition and field measurements. Cloud cover and recent snowfalls constitute the main restrictions of the image-based method.
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Antoine Rabatel, Jean-Pierre Dedieu, Christian Vincent. Using remote-sensing data to determine equilibrium-line altitude and mass-balance time series: validation on three French glaciers, 1994-2002. Journal of Glaciology, International Glaciological Society, 2005, 51 (175), pp.539 à 546. ⟨10.3189/172756505781829106⟩. ⟨insu-00374887⟩

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